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Plants in the Garden: March

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 28 March 2013, 10:52. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 04 March 2013, 18:16top / bottom of page

A fine day at last and a chance to look at a few of the true alpines flowering in the garden. Pride of place must be the glorious orange Crocus herbertii (for a long time included as a form of gargaricus). This slowly spreads stoloniferously on a humus rich raised bed, but having said that this clump is probably ten years old! Janis Ruksans notes that this is the strongest orange of all crocus, and can flower from tiny corms only 5mm in diameter. Not difficult in the garden in conditions that don't dry out seriously in summer.

The second is my favourite reticulate Iris - 'Clairette' - very distinctly coloured, like 'Halkis', and not commonly available. This has persisted for several years growing in deep gritty sand, where previously I had found these irises short lived.

Next - not really an alpine, but the smallest and most finicky of Hellebores, torquatus - this is a double form given the name Tinkerbell Group. All torquatus are slow and relatively tricky plants in the garden but still rather delightful when compared with more familiar species and hybrids.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 04 March 2013, 18:27top / bottom of page

These final two images show plants just 'waking up'. Edraianthus pumilio is just beginning to show signs of new growth in the centre of each rosette after its winter dormancy. This plant has had no protection through the winter unlike various androsaces and the like, and proves its worth in the garden more and more.

The last picture may show very little except three red shoots appearing but this is one of the most exciting plants in the garden - the western US Paeonia brownii. This and its close relative P. californica, are very distinct and unusual species, adapted to particularly dry climates. This plant, obtained from Pottertons Nursery, has been in the sand bed for three or four years - what chance is there that it might flower this year? Fingers crossed!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 05 March 2013, 20:07top / bottom of page

This year seems to have been later for snowdrops, or with us anyway they have kept looking very good well into March. The last few sunny days have really brought out their true beauty and any lingering 'humbug' about the great variety there are has been totally dispelled. There comes a point when you realise that their fascination has become complete. It is always nice to see galleries of snowdrop pictures like the new selection on this website, but even more exciting is seeing them in the flesh - and most of all something new and unique in your own garden. One of the most useful things is to meet a real expert who can stimulate this heightened perception of these plants, and I am very grateful to John Finch, for his profound enthusiasm and wide knowledge, both of snowdrops and also the people who grow snowdrops. So you could say this is a first for the AGS website - four new unnamed (so far) distinctive seedlings that have arisen in our garden - they will be watched closely and increased and any others like them in the snowdrop world inherently regarded as inferior from the very start!

Galanthus 'Trym' is an excellent parent and can produce very good seedlings. We have two in particular - the first a clear cross with 'Augustus', with broad plicate leaves and a good sized flower. The second is probably a better plant and is shown growing in a pot, with very well marked outer tepals. In a different part of the garden looks to be a seedling from 'Galatea', with extremely long pedicels and sharply marked inner tepals - this has clumped up well and will have to be moved as it dies back this summer. The final plant is a real oddity and its difficult to think how it has arisen - the ovary and flower is distinctly globular, making it stand out in a world of white, the marking quite a soft-green. Perhaps it is not so distictive as I think, but none-the-less I rather like it. So there it is, the debutantes for 2013, what will 2014 bring?

Contribution from Tim Ingram 06 March 2013, 08:28top / bottom of page

More variants of any group of plants bring not only physical variety but also temporal variety in flowering times, and collecting snowdrops, though naturally a feature of the garden in February of course, extends like other bulbs from the previous autumn through later into spring. These are four plants looking especially good now (a fifth is the, I was going to say, incomparable 'Cicely Hall', but one can never say that in the snowdrop world).

G. elwesii 'Ransom's Dwarf' - this is described in The Snowdrop book for its 'surprisingly large flowers and its willingness to increase freely, forming tight floriferous clumps', and it has certainly done this with us. Many forms of elwesii are selected for their height and foliage (amongst snowdrops they are the most striking). This picture shows what a tidy plant it is.

G. x allenii - quite a curious plant now thought to be a cross between alpinus and woronowii (and now growers are carrying out controlled crosses between snowdrops it may be possible to clarify this more). It dates back to the 1880's, so quite an heirloom, and after an uncertain start does seem to be growing better with us now. The leaves are quite broad and the flowers 'dumpy', if that's not an unconsidered botanical term, and I wonder if it may have contributed pollen to the 'Globular seedling' mentioned earlier, which is nearby.

G. 'The Linns' - is a sturdy upright cultivar originating in Scotland in Dr. Evelyn Stevens garden in Dunblane, and once you have a good collection of snowdrops I think this becomes more and more appealing because it is quite distinct for its very short pedicels and definite presence.

The final snowdrop is without doubt the dinkiest galanthus we have in the garden, and as is the nature of such things, the one with the longest name - G. reginae-olgae subsp. vernalis Kenneth Beckett's AM form. This was a kind gift from Richard Bird. Only a few inches high and the feature, like a lot of this species, the beautiful narrow strap-shaped leaves, very glaucous with brighter green edge. Oh that this had increased more, and it might be my favourite snowdrop in the garden if I turned on just my alpine sensibilities.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 10 March 2013, 09:36top / bottom of page
Knowle Hill Farm

This time last year I showed a few pictures of snowdrops taken in Elizabeth Cairn's garden near to Maidstone. This garden has a wonderful situation perched on the North Downs escarpment, overlooking the Weald of Kent, very like John and Carolyn Millen's garden that I have mentioned earlier. The snowdrops in the two gardens are very different, but equally fascinating. Many of those in Elizabeth's garden derive from a clutch of wild collected bulbs given to her by her friend Martyn Rix. So they are intriguing to see for being quite different from many of the traditionally familiar varieties. The situation of the garden, well drained and sunny, with alkaline soil, is ideal for snowdrops and also many hellebores. The latter make wonderfully strong flowering clumps as the first picture shows, a form that stood out for the contrast between the white flowers and bronzed stems and buds. Next to it is a small form of Galanthus elwesii, characteristic of those in the garden, with soft arching (rather than upright) blue-grey leaves, and the third picture shows how these make bold plants in the garden, as much or more as foliage than flowering plants. Although we have grown hellebores for very many years they have never developed as strongly and flowered as freely as at Knowle Hill, and it does show how gardens can be extremely well suited to certain types of plants.

Knowle Hill Farm

White and yellow hellebores are the showiest in a garden, but the recent development of double forms has resulted in some stunning plants too, especially the soft apple-pink form shown. Some of the early primroses are also giving colour, but although the garden appears very moist and ideal for these now, Elizabeth has found them hard to persist through hot drying spells in the summer - in a smaller garden they would be easier to provide for. This blue form, nicely situated under a fern which will shade it later on, is especially attractive.

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