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Plants in the Garden: Fun with a Sand Bed!

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 11 June 2013, 08:51. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 26 April 2011, 08:29top / bottom of page

For a few years I have been growing a wide range of plants in a ground level sand bed. Because this is proving to be very successful and economical (allowing more to be spent on plants!) I thought I would quickly share it here with a photo taken in the winter when the bed was cover with dutch lights. A year or two ago I wrote about the bed in the American Rock Garden Journal, from where much of the inspiration has come. I hope now to write more on it for the AGS Bulletin, and I know there are others who have had good success with this technique. The bed, not surprisingly, is mostly planted with dryland alpines that are particularly suitable for the south-east, and is dominated by some dramatic specimens of Yucca whipplei and species of Dasylirion, neither of which have been touched by the severe winter we have just had. I would love to hear of anyone else's experiences with growing plants in this way - it does provide the opportunity to grow some really special plants in the garden in a relatively easy and un-expensive way and is very enjoyable. (The wire netting surround by the way, though unsightly, was the result of rabbit damage, which i hope we are now rid of!).

Contribution from David Nicholson 26 April 2011, 19:15top / bottom of page

Ideal for Junos?

Contribution from Tim Ingram 26 April 2011, 19:37top / bottom of page

I haven't tried Junos yet! But I do hope to take over more of the garden with similar beds, perhaps a little like the 'berms' that they make in the States. A few bulbs, like Iris reticulata 'Clairette', which has not persisted well elsewhere have settled down nicely. And the fern 'Asplenium ceterach' (which came from Rachel Lever at Aberconwy) has done really well, even if it doesn't look so good as growing in a wall in North Wales!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 03 May 2011, 08:01top / bottom of page

A few pictures of the sand bed this spring.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 03 May 2011, 08:24top / bottom of page

From top left: Asp[enium ceterach (very good indicator of the bed drying out by curling up its fronds - this spring has required regular watering!); Dianthus haematocalyx and Polygala calcarea 'Lillet' (the latter is a superb sand bed plant, self-sowing gently and a wonderful colour); a grouping with Yucca whipplei in the background and Aquilegia grahamii, Lupinus albifrons, Ptilotrichium spinosum, and Stachys citrina at front; a super tight cushion of Arenaria tetraquetra (although sometimes vulnerable to the delvings of blackbirds, which is a great annoyance - usually covered in a dome of wire netting!); general view of the sand bed showing new planting in foreground - this has yet to be covered in top-dressing of coarse grit. Stakes were used for winter cover as per original picture and their position needs to be marked before removing.

There is a lot more to come, especially when the Campanulas start flowering, which are extremely successful sand bed plants. The other plant which has grown very well is Raoulia australis, growing probably a metre across around a group of Juniperus communis 'Compressa'.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 May 2011, 08:30top / bottom of page

These are in flower at the moment. A wonderful annual gentian from the Himalayas (from Aberconwy Nursery - as are many of these plants!) - G. syringea; Edraianthus pumilio in its fine silver leaved form (owerinianus) - an exquisite plant (I have several different species and. like Campanulas, they love the fine gritty sand, staying tight and free-floering); Stachys citrina; the glorious Silene hookeri from the Rockies; Thymus 'Peter Davis'; and an overall view of the bed showing Yucca whipplei and Dasylirion species.

There are very many other plants growing successfully on the bed, varying from forms of Androsace studiosorum, Primula marginata, very many Campanulas, dwarf Daphnes, Salvia caespitosa, Callianthemum sp., and a huge mat of Raoulia australis. The crevice garden may be the latest, and very attractive way, to grow many choice alpines, but the sand bed is equally good and has the benefit of being very cheap to construct for those starting a garden, or like me whose garden is large and labour intensive.

Contribution from nigel parkes-rolfe 10 May 2011, 21:50top / bottom of page
Some questions

Sorry if i have missed this or should know it but talking of crevice gardens, haven't I read somewhere that these can be built on a bed of sand. Presumably that would provide more drainage than a ground level bed or would that be going too far? I'm asking as I'm thinking of trying this at home. Would it work, what type of sand and what type of mix for the crevices?

So many questions but any answers appreciated.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 11 May 2011, 07:05top / bottom of page

Dear Nigel,

I don't have any experience of making a crevice bed but I think in large part a bed of sand makes the construction of the bed very much easier (ie: in placing and holding the rocks). It must aid in drainage too which is no bad thing but the crevices themselves will provide most of this. By analogy with my sand bed the plants will steadily root deeply through the sand to the soil beneath where they will get more sustinance, but the crowns of the plants will keep dry and tight in character. Anne Speigel in America makes interesting points of how some plants do better in sand beds and others in crevices in her garden and this shows how it is good to experiment! If you can find it look at the photographs in Ken Druse's book 'The Collector's Garden' of the Kelaidises front garden in Denver. The plants are grown in mounds of sand and grit (or berms) and I have never seen a more appealing front garden! No grass at all!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 12 May 2011, 17:30top / bottom of page

One of the great disappointments of the AGS website is how we don't share our experiences of gardening with alpines (with the honourable exceptions of the diaries of course). Just a short time posting comments and photographs on the NARGS site convinces me of the huge value of the discussion that arises, both in encouraging our gardening and focussing on important points that can make the garden so much better and more successful. The most important feature is that the discussion is completely open between expert and beginner, in the sense that none of us knows everything (in fact discussion is a great way of proving that!), which I think is less the case with the Shows, not necessarily for any personal reasons but just because they are judged and this creates a very different outlook.

There must be a great number of members out there with gardens who may feel that they are somehow not good enough to share with others. But truthfully anyone who loves growing plants also sees that in others who get the same thrill, irrespective of their garden or situation. I would make a plea for members to start using this thread to compare notes and enthuse one another about future projects - it just requires enough people to get involved to go somewhere.

Contribution from David Nicholson 12 May 2011, 19:53top / bottom of page

Tim, if you had begun this thread on the SRGC Forum you would have been inundated with comment, suggestions, images, and mass participation. Here you are lucky to get one follow-up post. I'm enjoying your sand bed posts and am going to try one albeit on a smaller scale.

As far as crevice gardens are concerned, in addition to Paul Cumbleton's Wisley Log you will find some really good stuff on the following SRGC threads

Alpines-Crevice Gardening in defence of rock, and

Alpines-Denmark's giant crevice garden

Contribution from Tim Ingram 12 May 2011, 21:05top / bottom of page

Thank you for that! I think membership of the SRGC might beckon. It was actually Christine who advised me to use the website to generate some discussion - but my-o-my it is hard work!

Contribution from John Good 12 May 2011, 21:57top / bottom of page
Beware of pure sand in crevice beds!

I have three crevice beds, all built with the considerable help and encouragement of my friend Zdenek Zvolanek (doyen of Czech crevice garden builders) and his late lamented partner Joyce Carruthers. One of these beds was filled with pure grit-sand (local granite, approx. 0.1-3mm grade) the others with a mixture of this materialand my fairly clayey topsoil. Even here in wet Wales (annual precipitation c. 1300 mm) the pure sand dries out too much in summer and the plants look starved; the mix with topsoil is much better.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 13 May 2011, 07:04top / bottom of page

John, thanks for your comment. David directed me to the SRGC discussion on crevice gardening, and it is tremendous. I see the high regard in which ZZ is held and I think he is as good with words as with rocks! I know on reading his book that I was quite surprised that he recommends using loam or even more clay soil to fill the crevices, but in long dry spells these must be very prone to drying out and even in a deep sand bed, which holds moisture remarkably well, I find I have to water quite often when we have had no rain for a month or more. Once plants are really well established and have forged a deep and extensive root system I think they can cope with most conditions. The biggest problem with a sand bed is that it very easily becomes too wet in the winter, hence a need for winter protection (though this is quite easy). Presumably the crevice gardens are less in need of such cover. They do look wonderful and it will be interesting to see how the one at Wisley develops. However, we don't have so much rock to hand down here in Kent!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 13 May 2011, 08:02top / bottom of page

Just a quick example of Zdenek Zvolanek's 'way with words' taken from the SRGC forum:

A Dozen Pages Celebration

A thread leading us through all the romantic corners filled with stones and plants, cemented together with the experiences of authors, is actually the spine in the body of every good club of rock gardeners. This thread uncovered and showed more examples of artificial rock outcrops than is available in any official handbooks and will be a modern guide for every new grower interested in this most intensive kind of rock gardening.

Really inspirational, like all I've seen about Czech rock gardening.

Contribution from Fermi de Sousa 14 May 2011, 15:26top / bottom of page

thanks for starting this discussion, Tim. I like the look of your sand bed and hope that the one we've made will look as good one day!

We had a slight problem last summer when the torrential rain sent a river running down our driveway and through the sandbed! Sandbeds erode really easily! Fortunately we didn't lose too many plants but we have to make some amendments to avoid a repeat! Where we are in Central Victoria we have been trying some Western Australian plants and the sandbed is the logical place for them.

Drying out is definately a problem especially as we have a large Eucalyptus on the west side of the bed, but we're trying to avoid excessive watering which would only encourage the tree roots!



Contribution from Tim Ingram 15 May 2011, 13:13top / bottom of page

Hi Fermi, I recognise your name from elsewhere! We have quite a diverse, if small, Group down here in Kent, which includes the Secretary of the Society for Growing Australian Plants. We have also had some great talks, particularly about Western Australian plants (a lot of orchids!), and I worked for six months in Tasmania back in the '80's, a memorable time. I have always found the flora of the Southern Hemisphere fascinating and have had a go at growing quite a few things, notably Banksias and a few Dryandras, which I found really striking. I grew these in a mix of builders ballast (sand and stone) and ericaceous compost, which also suited the beautiful Silver Tree from South Africa. I know these are hardly alpines but I think it illustrates the great diversity of interests that members have, and which is one of the unwritten strengths of the Society.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 15 May 2011, 14:29top / bottom of page

A few more pictures. One of the best Dianthus from Aberconwy,'Eileen Lever'; this variety under the Yucca is very striking at the moment but I have lost its name; Lithodora x intermedia, a favorite plant of mine in a favourite family; Teucrium aroanum; Penstemon ovatus (this has been reliable for many years, self-sowing gently; a view of the front garden; Potentilla fruticosa 'Beesii', a really fine variety of this common shrub, slow growing and with beautiful silver-silky leaves.

Contribution from David Nicholson 15 May 2011, 19:49top / bottom of page

Some lovely stuff there Tim.

I'm just reading Jack Elliott's book "Alpines in the Open Garden (Batsford 1991) although a little out of date nomenclature wise I find it very useful for plant selection ideas. I notice he was a man of Kent too and he speaks highly of Kentish wragstone. Pity that crevice gardens were not in vogue in his day.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 24 May 2011, 13:58top / bottom of page

Anyone keen on making a sand bed should look at the NARGS Forum under General Forum - What do you see on your garden walks?

There are some pictures there from Anne Spiegel's garden which show how beautifully plants can be grown in the garden in this way - the Eriogonum's in particular are exquisite. I certainly have a long way to go to emulate Anne's planting but it is a huge encourgement to try!

The whole thread by the way is fascinating with members from greatly varying parts of the US and Canada, and elsewhere, describing their gardens and plants - quite an eye opener.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 25 May 2011, 20:40top / bottom of page
Some Plants at the Chelsea Physic Garden

Today I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden, a favourite haunt of the past. Planted on the famous rockery of black volcanic stone are all sorts of fascinating plants from dry places. The Mediterranean has an extensive range of spinose shrublets, including here the actually not so spiny Euphorbia spinosa (E. acanthothamnos is much more formidable!), and Stachys spinosa from Greece, which is new to me. The lovely pale yellow S. citrina was flowering elsewhere on the rockery, and has been for a long time at home too (see photo earlier in this thread). Several other plants that I have in my sand bed were here also, including Teucrium musimonum, Verbascum dumulosum and Athamanta turbith. But I was surprised to see two lusty plants of Pulsatilla vernalis which I have not found easy.

Origanums are great plants for the dry south-east but who knows O. orites, a strong and attractive species with olive-green leaves, just coming up to flower. The plant grown was collected in Crete. And also sitting in a crevice looking rather good, Umbilicus rupestris. Finally since I find legumes intriguing, a venerable gnarled specimen of Hippocrepis balearica that had finished flowering. But what beautiful leaves.

It is amazing what interest a garden can hold and the Chelsea Physic Garden is a treasure that welcomes you in a way larger gardens are unable to do. I have visited it for many years and exchanged plants and seed, and find it as exciting as I ever did, probably because despite its significant history it remains comparable to a garden one can make oneself.

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