Plants in the Garden: January 2013
Started by: Tim IngramGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 30 January 2013, 19:42. Go to bottom of this page.
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This is the most magnificent specimen of Garrya elliptica I have ever seen! (especially since it is often seen as a wall shrub needing protection in colder areas). At Dunster, just below the Castle, near Minehead in Somerset.
I do think the hardiness of Garrya is underrated. I have grown it in a variety of positions, some in the open, for at least four decades, and in all those years it has been occasionally 'burnt' by frost, and twice cut to the ground, but never killed. It is the male which is almost always grown for its beautiful winter catkins (better in some forms than others) but at the Moorbank Botanic Garden in Newcastle we have a seed-grown group which includes at least one female which sets good nut-like seeds and seedlings occur all round the garden, apparently spread by birds. Indeed it can almost be a weed. This is curious as it is a rather lowland Californian and the late Wayne Roderick always said that he could not understand how it could be hardy in British conditions.
In Bob Nold's book 'High and Dry' he describes Garrya elliptica as 'completely and hopelessly tender' (in Denver). Adventurous gardener that he is though, he also describes trying G. fremontii ('equally hopeless') and the summer blooming G. wrightii. Garrya flavescens offers more promise and has survived quite extreme conditions at Denver Botanic Garden. This is a drought-tolerant, grey leaved shrub, and seed from Washington Co., Utah is listed in Alan Bradshaw's Alplains seedlist. Before reading Nold's book I had only heard of G. elliptica and some of its selected forms, so given the adaptability of this species to British gardens maybe some of the others would grow well too. This does indicate the value of having good 'Botanic' gardens in different parts of the country, not only to study and appreciate plants, but also to provide horticultural evidence on the climatic tolerances and adaptabilty of different species.
The recent mild spell has brought out Cornus mas. I seem to remember reading a comment on this web site wondering why it is not widely grown. Here it has reached at least 12' by 12' in 30 years and I have cut it back severely many times. The early flowers are always something to look forward to (from an upstairs window!). On the down side it is spikey and ungainly and in some years covers the ground with dark red oval 'cherries' which produce a purple dye which treads indoors.
The first snowdrops have been out for some days while others remain just above the ground.
To see gardens at the Chelsea Show and featured in glossy magazines you could be forgiven for wondering how (or even whether) a garden is really made and maintained. Photographs tend to be selective whereas the eye only too easily is drawn to disarray. The gardening writer Mirabel Osler caught something of this dichotomy in her book ?A Gentle Plea for Chaos?, which is to do with keeping some sort of romance in the garden, or perhaps realising that this will always come of its own accord. Realism in other words.
There are periods in life where gardening has to take a back seat. In a large garden a few years can see Nature reasserting herself more quickly than you might like. We have five rows of dwarf apples planted over 30 years ago and parts of these have been neglected for too long. Two rows have been underplanted with woodland perennials and the long term plan is to continue along all rows. Concerted action leads to results and the first picture shows the worst area in the process of clearing and pruning. Even as this is done the prospect of underplanting with hellebores, snowdrops, anemones, trilliums and ferns becomes more and more appealing. The second picture shows one of the established rows, nicely tidied and mulched with compost, now just as the snowdrops are beginning to show their buds. And the final one, a close up of how I would like the beds to develop. Woodland gardening, even on the smallest scale under deciduous trees and shrubs, is amongst the most appealing of all ways of growing plants, and woodlands themselves the most fascinating places to explore.
This is still very early in the woodland garden but even now, before the snowdrops really take centre stage, there are plants that attract the eye. Hacquetia epipactis ?Thor?, like many early plants, when temperatures are low, has a very long period of interest, really coming into its own in February and March, but nice to see now as this relatively mild winter so far has brought plants on early. Hellebores can look good for even longer, right through till May (especially in the case of dark-flowered forms). A few are opening flowers now, many more in bud, including the apple-green H. odorus. Most perennials have died down, but the foliage of epimediums still looks good (now we are free of rabbits! -interestingly they also eat the young growth of berberis which must say something about its flavour). Two geraniums keep interesting foliage through the winter; G. x oxonianum ?Spring Fling? and G. phaeum ?Margaret Wilson?, and the latter just happens to have been discovered and named for a member of our Alpine Group, which gives it greatly added appeal! - although I prefer more regular variegation. Most ferns begin to look a little tattered by now, even if not deciduous, but some of the Polypodiums come into their own in the winter in well drained protected spots - this one is P. x mantoniae ?Cordubiense?, growing in quite dense shade under a crabapple.
Winter is always a time to wrestle parts of the garden back into shape and there is even more incentive when you open it early in year for snowdrops and hellebores. Once these begin to really make a show some of the disarray is put back into perspective and all that hard work has its reward.
Snow has an amazing transforming effect on a garden, putting it on hold for as long as it stays - just what alpine plants need but down here in the south rarely get for long. The change in light and the way snow, like frost, accentuates the tracery of plants can be exceedingly beautiful. It is often regarded as something that puts a stop on activity, but it also gives one time to look more closely at plant and seed catalogues and peruse plans for the garden in the coming year - or even sit by a warm fire and read a book (or the AGS Bulletins!) rather than checking on the weather forecast at regular intervals. Best of all, all that work that needs doing in the garden is nicely covered up and 'swept under the snow'!
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