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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 21 June 2012, 08:49top / bottom of page

The last picture is something to aim for - Robin and Sue White's superb alpine planting at Blackthorn; reason enough for more Specialist Nurseries and more Alpine Gardens around the country!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 September 2012, 18:00top / bottom of page

I can't help coming back to the sand bed because despite there not being much in flower now some of the plants and combinations are so appealing. Before that though I should say that this small bed has had a big impact on our garden and is leading us to 'change the face' of the planting around it to become more in tune with the alpines, at least in style of planting. Thus we are planting smaller plants and many with silver and grey foliage and intend to expand the plantings of true alpines to provide more material for propagation, and hopefully also to convince visitors that these are plants also for their gardens! This doesn't happen easily and I remain mystified as to why not. These first few pictures show a bed in the background cleared and made ready for planting and then planted with a mix of sun lovers, including various pinks and grasses - now I hope we don't get too harsh a winter, and some, like Convolvulus cneorum, will get a glass light over them. The third picture just shows an overall view, and some of the larger plants in the far background may steadily be removed as time goes on. We are debating removal of the grass; I debate, my wife says no!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 September 2012, 18:14top / bottom of page

There are just a few plants flowering and one is a real treasure - this is Gentiana depressa. Only one flower but somehow it demands attention, and I wouldn't class it as a plant really suitable for our garden. Some others have grown this exceptionally well and Lesley Cox, on the SRGC Forum, speaks of a plant with over 100 flowers(!), and shows a very well flowered example. It belongs to the same choice section of gentians as the rather legendary G. urnula, and shows why it is worth experimenting with different alpines in the garden - there is great excitement when something like this flowers. A late flower on Teucrium aroanum is worthy of a closer look too. The combination of the teucrium with sempervivums is one I like very much and something impossible to get with plants grown in pots. A similar example comes from self-seeding Edraianthus pumilio and a mix of Saxifraga longifolia, Raoulia australis, Globularia spinosa, asperula and felicia.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 17 September 2012, 18:29top / bottom of page

Perhaps one reason the alpine gardeners don't consider the sand bed is that it lacks any relief, but contrast can provided with plants such as yuccas and related plants as I have used, or with lumps of tufa or rocks. Tufa is ideal because transfer of moisture from the sand will be very effective and of course some very choice plants can be grown in it - at present I have only a few such as Helichrysum coralloides and a superb small very blue dianthus from Aberconwy. Physoplexis will be a must, along with the smallest of daphnes and rooted cuttings of saxifrages.

The final picture shows 'a leafy miscellany' and again why foliage has such a part to play in our appreciation of these plants - here Primula marginata surrounded by polygala, dianthus and dryas. The same rules that apply to contrasting plants on a larger scale in the garden, are there on the small scale, and perhaps are even more important. Maybe if more 'garden designers' thought of alpines and small perennials in this way there would be a wider appreciation of them by gardeners in general.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 26 September 2012, 11:48top / bottom of page
Foliage on the Sand Bed - Autumn 2012

How much don?t we see of a plant when we concentrate on its flowers? For the great majority of the year plants are not in flower but are certainly not lacking in interest. This is more true than most in the case of alpines whose foliage is tighly condensed and which we view much more individually than we do many other plants. Alpines are hardly renowned for flowering in the autumn but just going out and looking at the sand bed shows that the interest and fascination that comes from their varied foliage and habit is equally stimulating.

Eriogonums are especially suited to poor sandy soil and this can accentuate the attraction of their foliage, as here with Eriogonum umbellatum (from Little Heath Farm). Other species of this very distinctive genus are ?musts? for the sand bed in the future. Gypsophila cerastoides might not be in the first flight of alpines but look more closely at those small red-edged leaves with their rim of fine hairs and the absence of flowers becomes less important in the garden scene. Edraianthus serpyllifolius ?Major? is not only one of the finest flowering alpines but also, like others in the genus, an extremely attractive foliage plant, thriving in deep sand.

Foliage on the Sand Bed - Autumn 2012

The great success of Raoulia australis in this bed has tempted me to try other species, including the diminutive R. lutescens - Will Ingwersen recommends this for tufa in his ?Manual of Alpine Plants?, and I like the idea of this. Hypericum cerastoides by contrast has grown very vigorously, no doubt rooting down into the soil deep below, but makes an impressive foliage plant even now as the flowers begin to fade. There are many smaller and quite choice species, probably very suitable for a sand bed. Petrophyton hendersonii, a relative of the legendary Kelseya, has always been a favourite plant and its foliage really comes into its own at this time of year. I am pleased to see that this has now started to grow more vigorously and again its roots have probably delved deeper into the soil below the sand (ca. 30 to 40cm deep). Finally Arabis androsacea which could hardly be said to be overly dramatic in flower, but makes a superb cushion.

Aciphylla montana would most likely do better with more consistant moisture than our dry Kent garden provides, and two larger species planted in the sand have not kept going. We will try these in a cooler part of the garden even if they never grow as successfully as they do in the north and west. Pulsatilla vernalis does seem to have established well and the excitement will be if this flowers next year. The deep roots of Pasque Flowers in general make them very suitable for sandy soils where they have to search for moisture. Above the pulsatilla are a couple of blocks of tufa, which still need planting with a wider variety of choice plants, but for foliage it would be hard to beat Dianthus ?Conwy Silver?. This variety of foliage and form is what really brings the sand bed to life and a plant like Potentilla ovina, which resembles a small well behaved ?silverweed? is quite novel amongst the cushions and mats of many alpines.

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