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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 Val Lee 06 July 2011, 15:22top / bottom of page

Tim I have been trawling through your "Fun with a Sand Bed" and found it both stimulating and full of good ideas. At the moment I am looking at making a sand bed at Coombe Lea, as I have had little luck so far locating suitable stone to make a crevice garden. Sand sounds an easier option and I know that Roger Stuckey in Exmouth has had success with a large trough filled with sand. I must now look up how to get started and will no doubt be back e'er too long for a few more tips and wrinkles. By the way, I have tried numerous small Daphnes planted in 6 inches of gravel (5/6mm) over heavy clay, which I forked over to aid drainage, with little or no success to date. If anyone has any ideas how I can improve my success rate, please add your contribution to this thread. Thanks again Tim for sharing your experience in Kent, fingers X'd David and I will be equally successful in Devon.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 07 July 2011, 16:18top / bottom of page

Val, thanks for your comment and I hope you have as much fun with a sand bed as I have. Daphnes have been a mixed success with me too and I would have thought a deep gravel mulch would have been pretty effective (this is what Robin White recommends in his book). The biggest problem I have had has been defoliation in wet conditions, even to some extent when the bed has been covered. In some cases the leaves have grown back in the spring; in others not. Probably a lot depends on the species and varieties being grown, and mine were mostly the smaller and more tricky ones. However, the climate in the west is quite a bit wetter than here so perhaps this is the problem?

Kim Davies had a raised sand bed at his nursery in the Welsh borders and I think he eventually gave up on it, and the rainfall there must also be quite high. It would certainly be interesting to hear others experiences; those that I know of are the Sheaders, Graham Nicholls and of course Wisley. (MIne by the way is filled with very sharp potting grit rather than sand or ballast, so is perhaps a bit more 'scree-like', which may help in wet weather - but I have had to water it quite a bit this spring).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 July 2011, 14:02top / bottom of page

Just a few more images from the sand bed. Most exciting is Gladiolus flanaganii flowering for the first time from small bulbs I had from Jim Archibald. This is a stunning small species. Near it is Eucomis schijffii which I have shown earlier and is now beginning to throw up flower spikes. I neglected to collect seed last year but must make sure I do this year and send some to the exchange. Will show it in its full glory later on! Finally Campanula hercegovina (which I wrongly labelled 'Nana' earlier on). This just shows how much campanulas are suited to sand beds - and simply how beautiful they are as a genus. The true 'Nana' which I have elsewhere is tiny by comparison.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 July 2011, 13:12top / bottom of page
The Value of Foliage

We concentrate very much on flowers but as a long lasting contribution to the garden the foliage of plants is often more significant. Just quickly looking over the sand bed this July as most alpines have come to the end of their flowering shows how wonderfully diverse their foliage is in all shades of grey, silver, and green, and in all variations of leaf size and shape. So some examples:

The tiny leaf rosettes of Arenaria tetraquetra, Raoulia australis and the raoulia-look-a-like, Ewartia planchonii.

The Value of Foliage

Slightly larger and more varied, Teucrium musimonum and Helichrysum milfordiae (this latter incidentally I have had trouble establishing in the past but seems to well on the sand bed, though it has not flowered), and Stachys citrina (much more bold and contrasting and a rather curious and appealing colour).

Silver foliage, not surprisingly, stands out in our relatively warm and dry garden but does need to be shown off against different plants to give some variation in the planting. One of my all time favourites, because it just gets better as conditions get hotter and drier, is Lupinus albifrons, in its dwarf form collinus (this I have just collected seed from for the exchange). Another legume, Astragalus angustifolius, makes a tidy small bush with the typically pinnate leaves of the genus - the white flowers are now setting seed, as you can see in the photo. Centaurea cineraria is not on the same bed but I couln't resist including it here for its very beautiful foliage, and it likes the same conditions. And then really a common, but one of the very best rock garden shrublets, Leucanthemum hosmariense.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 July 2011, 13:49top / bottom of page

There are greens too! Callianthemum anemonoides has been a good success on the bed, now making a sizeable clump and flowering early in the year. This is on a cooler side of the bed with gentians and several soldanellas. Dryas octopetala 'Minor' is a real treasure of a plant, much smaller than the normal type. Dryas must be one of the most widespread and recognisable of alpines, and yet restricted to just the two species and the hybrid known between them. A plant for every alpine garden! In the same family (Rosaceae) is the North American Petrophyton hendersonii which has little spiraea-like heads of creamy-white flowers - it makes a very tidy small cushion and I was very pleased to find it again from Ingwersens Nursery before they closed. And last the lovely tight rosettes of Androsace muscoidea (here with Polygala calcarea), one of several choice androsaces that have settled down on the bed. They are not as striking and free-flowering as seen on the showbench, but it is nice to know that they can grow reasonably successfully under these conditions.

More variation comes from plants like Salvia cyanescens, which has very good short spikes of blue flowers. I first saw this on one of the superb exhibits by Pottertons (& Martin) at the Chelsea Show many years ago and have wanted to grow it ever since. Anthemis marschalliana is a straightforward yellow daisy but with very fine foliage, especially close up. And even more striking, Erodium celtibericum, A gift from the generous French nurseryman, Jean-Pierre Jolivot of the Jardin d'en Face, who built up an extensive collection of the genus. The forth plant, in the absence of being able to grow the legendary Aquilegia jonesii, is A. scopulorum, one of the choicest of American species. Deep gritty sand is ideal for many of these small aquilegias, which naturally have have deep delving roots and are very tolerant of dry, warm conditions.

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