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Plants in the Garden: Fun with a Sand Bed!

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Started by: Tim Ingram

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 31 December 2011, 17:33top / bottom of page

Draba paysonii is full of flower buds and promise for the spring, whilst Polygala calcarea, lulled by the mild weather, is already flowering sparsely. This was one the finest and most long flowering plants on the bed last year, so a spell of consistant colder weather could well be a good benefit both for this and others of the plants. Arabis androsacea, another crucifer, really lives up to its name with fine neat rosettes, and I look forward to seeing this in flower next spring.

But a lot of species are much more typically alpine in dying back to resting buds in the winter, and these will often tend to be less tolerant of our warm/cold, stop/start winters. They just want to tick over with well-aerated sand or scree and protection from excess rain, until conditions warm up and light levels improve in the early spring. Some do OK without winter protection, for example the arctic and very widely distributed alpines Silene acaulis and Dryas octopetala, and Phlox douglasii forms.

Others, like most androsaces, resent winter wet on their woolly rosettes. These can be checked occasionally through the winter in case the sand may be drying out too much. I find this especially in early spring as the days warm and we have had no rain which will filter through to the beds. The plants here are A. studiosorum, x marpensis and villosa.

Androsace x marpensis

(Note - also look at the Androsace thread).

A few plants die back so much that buds may be hardly visible (the growable Eritrichium howardii from the Rockies is especially disconcerting in this way). On the sand bed Edraianthus pumilio shows real hibernation over the winter, as does Petrocallis pyrenaica and to a lesser extent Rhodiola trollii.

It may seem a time to forget about the garden for a while. But it is worth observing the plants carefully over the winter because it is a time when they are especially vulnerable, and keeping an eye on them enables you to more carefully provide the conditions they need to grow well and reward the garden with flowers the following year.

As expressed by Cliff and David and others on the website - Good wishes for 2012 and I look forward to sharing how the sand bed develops over the coming year.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 09 April 2012, 12:14top / bottom of page

Plants have been flowering for a while on the sand bed, but now spring is beginning to get into its stride. Polygala calcarea 'Lillet' has been reliable and colourful ever since the bed was first made, and shows it's satisfaction by self-sowing gently. The American Androsaces (Douglasias) laevigata and idahoensis x laevigata have only been planted recently but are flowering well, and are particularly striking. Most primulas are not well suited to our garden, but forms of marginata grow slowly on the bed, here 'Clear's Variety' and 'Shipton', the latter a kind gift from Alan Furness after the Edinburgh 2001 Conference (whose garden is a wonderful inspiration and education). I mentioned small ferns like Asplenium ceterach much earlier on, and am slowly trying more rock ferns on the bed, here Woodsia obtusa, which with its new growth at this time of year is especially attractive.

The final plant, a young specimen of Pulsatilla ambigua (from Desirable Plants in Devon - at the Nottingham AGS Conference), will I hope develop into as strong a clump as several other pulsatillas in the garden. This species also has an exquisite soft pink form, and in general the genus is one that really stands out in the spring garden; definitely worth collecting.

Earlier on I showed the bed covered with glass lights over winter, and for the last few years i have left the wooden posts that support these in situ (not terribly attractve). So now these have been removed and 50mm Metposts left in their place, quite expensive but a huge improvement to the bed. The influence (and success) of this bed is now being felt in our garden by an extnsion of an adjacent bed to fit in with the sand bed - and this too will be excavated and filled with gritty sand and some of the larger plants removed and smaller ones put in their place. It is a moot point how long the grass path between the two will last!

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