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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 01 October 2011, 17:41top / bottom of page

Positioning plants and planting them is very enjoyable and easy in sand. I don't wash the roots of soil as some growers recommend, but do pay close attention to watering the newly planted area over initial weeks. It can then take a year or even more for some plants to really establish and grow away, but as a consequence they stay tight and in character and much less prone to pests and diseases.

This new area provided space for about 25 plants and there will be the opportunity to establish more in the tufa blocks (which have ready made holes in situ!). They should have a month or more of good growing weather to begin to establish and around the end of October the bed will be covered with Dutch lights through to early spring. Little if any watering will be necessary over this period unless we have long unseasonably dry and warmish weather (usually in late winter turning into spring).

What of the plants? They vary considerably and with a number I am being quite adventurous! They include several choice campanulas that generally succeed well in sand, silver saxifrages, succulents like Delosperma cooperi and Rhodiola trollii, dianthus, onosma (often short lived but very appealing), Pulsatilla vernalis (again! - I would really like to establish this), and a good number of others from various genera. With other sections of the bed drawings have been made to keep a record of the planting (particularly important when one wishes to propagate from the plants, as is a primary aim of the planting). In the digital camera age I have just begun recording newly planted sections of the garden photographically and appending plant names on a wide border around printed copies. However much one thinks names will remain in the mind they quite quickly become lost unless plants are being managed all the time. After what seems quite good success with many plants on the initial planting of the bed, I look forward to seeing how this new planting develops next spring (and keep my fingers crossed that no rabbits discover it!).

Contribution from Tim Ingram 05 November 2011, 08:57top / bottom of page

It is towards the end of the year and time to cover the sand bed for the winter. Before that though just a few pictures taken through the year to remind me of what to look forward to next year, and simply how much fun gardening with alpines is! Our aim is to propagate more and more of these plants over the coming years and also open the garden to convince gardeners in the local region how fascinating these plants are, and how worthwhile to grow in the garden.

Contribution from Cliff Booker 05 November 2011, 09:14top / bottom of page

A super compilation of images Tim. Many thanks for this continuing feature which will prove an inspiration to many.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 05 November 2011, 21:59top / bottom of page

Thank you Cliff - much appreciated.

Contribution from David Nicholson 06 November 2011, 21:41top / bottom of page

When I spoke about a Wiki this is just the kind of topic I would like to see, complete with pictures, in a section about cultivation. Magnificent

Contribution from Margaret Young 07 November 2011, 11:56top / bottom of page

I couldn't agree more, David. Such postings are inspirational. Thank you, Tim!

Contribution from Chris McGregor 08 November 2011, 08:23top / bottom of page

Tim - Thank you very much for all your postings to date in this section. I know that many members have read them with interest - even if they do not always post a response.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 13 November 2011, 13:12top / bottom of page
Covering the sand bed

Probably the final contribution for a while until the bed really wakes up again in the early spring.

The autumn is reamrkably warm and mild, but usually by now the weather becomes changeable and wet and many choice alpines can 'go back'. I usually protect the bed with dutch lights from early November through to the following March, and this enables many more special plants to survive and prosper. The pictures just show this operation in progress; a very simple light and airy cover. It is worth marking all of the lights and supporting structure to enable it to be put together easily again the following season!

Covering the sand bed

Contribution from David Bishop 05 December 2011, 16:49top / bottom of page

I've enjoyed this thread immensely and have been motivated to build a sand bed in my small, south facing,, London garden. I'm planning a freestanding raised bed over soil. However, I cannot decide how deep the bed should be. The Wisley beds are very deep - a metre or so. Others referred to range from 30 to 50 centimetres deep. I'd appreciate advice.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 05 December 2011, 19:40top / bottom of page

David - many thanks for your comments. Different growers succeed with sand beds of varying depths. The higher ones are probably more of convenience than anything. Mine is more like a scree and made at ground level (slightly raised). If making a free standing bed I would aim for something mounded to about 60cm in the middle, grading down and providing different aspects for different plants. Where the sand is deepest and most exposed more arid loving plants will grow; around the edge those needing more moisture. My first sand bed was made in a raised bed of breeze blocks only about 25cm high and grew some great plants. Always though I have covered them in the winter.

Contribution from David Bishop 08 December 2011, 14:44top / bottom of page

Many thanks, Tim.

Sorry for the delay in response but I've tried several times and keep losing my efforts somehow. So I'll try again.

Your advice is very helpful and I have a better idea of how I'll proceed. However, I also have to devise an anti-cat strategy for my planned sand bed. My neighbours think I'm a bit crazy to contemplate such a feline heaven; they envisage the local cat population - and that's a lot around here - using it to party till daybreak. However it will be a challenge and I'll probably adopt Paul Cumbleton's idea and grow some hardy cacti. I've been very impressed by the images of cacti on the Wisley log. I've not grown cacti before, so to try something new that's stunning to look at AND utilitarian is a bonus.

Thanks again.


Contribution from Tim Ingram 10 December 2011, 14:11top / bottom of page

This very mild autumn has coaxed flowers from a number of plants normally flowering in the spring and summer. The hybrid anemones are early flowering but here are opening flowers already! Rhodanthemum hosmariense is famed for its very long flowering season but is never really covered in flowers as a result. A young plant of Gentiana acaulis provides that beautiful blue on the sand bed at a curious time, but generally I don't find this very free-flowering. And finally Eriogonum umbellatum. There are a few other plants producing flowers such as Centaurium scilloides and Polygala calcarea which was very long flowering last spring - will be interesting to see what it does next year.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 31 December 2011, 17:21top / bottom of page
Overwintering alpines in the garden

The winter is a critical time for many alpines which may normally be adapted to snow cover, or grow in sites with excellent drainage such as screes and crevices in Nature. In relatively mild lowland gardens such as ours the simplest way of mimicking these conditions is with glass cover as I have done with the sand bed and with simple frame lights as shown below. However, we tend to grow a very wide diversity of plants that come from different places and are exposed naturally to differing rigours of climate, and so this is always something of a compromise and some plants will do better than others. Conditions at the moment are very mild and some plants remain fresh and attractive whilst others have died back to resting buds, awaiting the warming days of spring. Cyclamen are especially good for their leaves now, notably the silver leaf form of hederifolium and graecum, which though it doesn't flower well is beautiful foliage plant.

Overwintering alpines in the garden

Various alpine shrublets such as dwarf daphnes and Lithodora zahnii have a strong presence, and I particularly like the New Zealand Helichrysum selago which is such a unique looking plant. Saxifrages, like this form of cotyledon tucked in against a block of tufa, are especially nice.

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