Plants in the Garden: Plants at Copton Ash in Kent
Started by: Tim Ingram
A look at various plants in our garden this springGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 17 June 2013, 22:18. Go to bottom of this page.
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The long warm and dry spring seems to have stimulated certain plants to flower better than ever before. Two unusual plants stand out; first Pelargonium quercetorum, a rare species from Northern Iraq which I grew from seed from Jim Archibald - it is obviously very hardy but has rarely flowered successfully before; the second the Mediterranean Scilla hyacinthoides (from Bob and Rannveig Wallis), which for the first time has produced its remarkable-metre plus flower spikes. Rannveig (and I think Jim) have likened it to a blue Eremurus which is very apt. My poor photograph does it less than justice and it has most of the flowers yet to open.
There are also some great umbellifers in the garden. My favourite has to be Athamanta turbith, which I always liken to a symphony in green and white, absolutely beautiful. The small silvery seeds add to the picture later on. Laserpitium siler is a strong and long lived perennial adapted to the harsh winters of Northern Europe, slow to establish but than a striking addition to the perennial border and quite distinctive for its open flowerheads and greyish foliage. I was introduced to it by a Belgian landscape architect friend who used it in his planting schemes. The final umbel is the famous Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' which was found by Prof. John Richards and must be one of the best plants introduced to gardens in recent years - here it is growing under apple trees with Brunnera macrophylla, Aquilegias and Corydalis, in a self-sowing harmony (mostly!).
Plants grown from seed from Jim and Jenny Archibald abound in the garden, as they must do in those of many keen growers, and one that self-sows year by year and always stands out is Anchusa undulata - such vivid blue flowers are rare in the garden. I have another species from Mike and Hazel Brett (who by the way have one of the finest alpine gardens in the South-East on the outskirts of Maidstone); this was named A. hybrida (maybe a slightly dubious name) and has deep deep purple flowers on a stronger plant than undulata - it is far less freely self-sowing.
This area of the garden has had an interesting history. Initially it was a small bed in the lawn planted with a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). The tree was badly damaged by heavy snow some years and eventually cut down (in fact it was meant to be the beautiful hybrid A. x andrachnoides, which has such fine bark, but the nursery supplied the wrong plant!). Around the Arbutus was planted, in exceptionally dry soil, Eryngium bourgatii. This prospered as it does, self-seeding generously. So when the bed was extended and planted with more choice plants the Eryngium began to be more of a nuisance! Hence the beginning of a new planting! The Eryngiums have been removed, though I am sure they will appear again from root cuttings to some extent, and the area very heavily mulched with 6mm gravel (to a depth of 6 to 9in in the centre.
So far few plants have been put in (it is really far to dry to plant very much). One is Thalictrum tuberosum, and another the very lovely Ranunculus x arendsii 'Moonlight' (a cross between amplexicaulis and gramineus 'Pardal' made at Washfield Nursery). Both of these, appropriately, came from Jennie Maillard who runs one of the best small nurseries in the South-East, and like many of us used to visit Washfield regularly. I hope also to try a few smaller Daphnes which should do well planted in deep gravel over soil. In time I aim to remove the bigger plants which are presently in other parts of the bed, and continue the theme of smaller more choice species. The remaining grass in the front garden is also likely to slowly disappear!
Hardly alpines (!) but I have been fascinated by these ever since hearing a talk by Roy Lancaster at one of the Alpine meetings years ago, and reading of them in the 'Plantsman'. We have long grown well known forms such as 'Charity' but only recently grown one of its lovely parents, lomariifolia. It is pleasing that this came through the last winter with no damage but has yet to flower.
The other two species are very different coming from the dry and hot south-western US. Mahonia fremontii has especially glaucous blue foliage and has been slow growing under a specimen of Cytisus battandieri. It came originally from the fine nursery 'Green Farm Plants' run by John Coke and Marina Christopher, one of many exciting plants they grew. The second, M. haematocarpa, is similar but more vigorous in the garden where it has a more open position. This was grown from wild collected seed; although it flowers well it has never set seed here. Both make very fine, if intensely prickly, foliage shrubs, ideal for the warmest of gardens.
There is a danger of finding too many plants interesting and having a large enough garden to capitalize on this passion! The camera very usefully glosses over the more weedy areas and parts of our garden could be described as a Nature Reserve by the charitably inclined. However, it often takes less time than you think to bring order out of chaos and patches of the garden always inspire. Thus a few examples; a fine purple leaved variety of Eucomis - this was grown from leaf cuttings gleaned from a wonderful plant in a pot at 'The Old Vicarage, East Ruston', where it was labelled pole-evansii. I think the growing conditions this year have suited Eucomis and other summer rainfall South Africans, at least with the long dry spring weather we have had in the south-east; another example, Dierama igneum, a pretty smaller flowered species with warm pink flowers; finally one of the best and reliably perennial foxgloves, Digitalis parviflora, with its extraordinary little brown flowers held right around the stem. Here it grows rather fortuitously with a self-seeding mass of Potentilla recta var. sulphurea.
A lot more plants are coming into flower, helped by the rains that have at last refreshed the garden. I expect many gardeners' like me' will have done a double take when they first saw Morina longifolia. I first saw it at the old Bristol Botanic Garden, across the Suspension Bridge, and it really is quite an extraordinary plant. The yellow species, coulteriana, is pictured in Phillips and Rix's 'Perennials', but though I once had seed I have never kept it going. M. longifolia is relatively short lived but normally seeds itself well in warm dry spots.
Thistle-like plants seem to be a theme at the moment. I grow several Berkheya species from South Africa. B. multijuga, from the Drakensberg, is a formidable specimen, a little let down by its bright yellow flowerheads. It is a stunning foliage plant but needs quite a bit of tidying up (painful!) at the end of the year. The other, unnamed, species came from that amazing Norfolk garden, The Old Vicarage at East Ruston, where it grows in the 'desert ' garden. There it made a strong upstanding specimen, but here in much better soil it tends to throw out more lax flowering stems. I have it growing with Eucomis, Euphorbia rigida and Mexican salvias.
When we think of Acanthus the bold species like mollis and spinosus come to mind, often plants that become annoyingly vigorous in the garden after their initial fascination. However, there are some interesting smaller species and the loveliest in my mind is A. dioscoridis, which can have jagged leaves, or in this form smooth edged leaves. It does run but not aggressively and I have it in a bed full of early bulbs, which the Acanthus, Sedums and a few other small perennials replace in the summer. Another most extraordinary species is the North African A. sennii, a shrub with striking red flowers, which i first saw at the Chelsea Physic Garden and begged some cuttings. Unfortunately unless your garden is virtually frost free there is little chance of this keeping its top growth and flowering, so it really needs protection. However, the photo shows that it does grow out from beneath the ground even after the harsh winter we have just had.
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