Plants in the Garden: Summer 2013
Started by: Tim IngramGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 16 September 2013, 16:57. Go to bottom of this page.
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I love this miniature Californian poppy, but it is a struggle to grow in pots. It always contrives to look parched and starved by the time it flowers. Nevertheless, I get seed whenever I can, and this year it performed much better than usual.
Finally, a few pictures to bring things up to date.
With the approach of autumn, things are starting to wake up in the greenhouse. This has never flowered for me before; maybe the hot summer helped.
A pretty little plant in a 2.5in pot.
Super plants and photos Jon! The close up of Papaver orientale is really striking. I wonder how many potential new alpine gardeners there might be in your street after seeing such an exciting front garden? The weather here in Kent has been so dry for so long that our garden is struggling to give colour now - hopefully autumn rains will start to bring on bulbs before long. We have just visited Peter Jacob and Margaret Wilson's garden in Walmer and I hope to put some pictures on in the next few days, but they are probably even drier than we are.
Much of what I have written over the past few years has had as its basis a personal desire to rebuild the small specialist nursery that we have run for very many years. Hence my conviction that gardening is at the heart of the AGS and other such societies. Coming from a philosophical and scientific background I view plants in an evolutionary sense rather than as platonic ideals. And a garden of all things evolves. This must have informed my take on the AGS which hasn't elicited such a great response on these discussion pages. So to put my money where my mouth is, these are a few pictures of a new raised bed built to grow stock plants for the nursery, and to provide excitement in the garden too. Our garden is relatively dry and hot and so we have always grown more dry-loving species of plants, and this could be said to be a miniature Mediterranean garden, with a range of plants from such regions around the world. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the support from gardeners on the SRGC Forum, who may be closer to the way I personally look at plants - and to those who have commented here too - and am putting more details about the development of the nursery and garden on there. Alpines are such specialised plants from a gardening perspective that stimulation from others with similar experience is really valuable. A nursery and garden in many ways compete with one another, and yet at the same time are 'bedfellows'; a garden is necessary to provide plants to propagate from, and the incentive to learn about them, and to allow for artistic expression; the nursery is necessary to allow the garden to evolve and renew (and pay the bills!). The benefit of writing about them, I suppose, is personal. We hope to have many more plants coming along for next spring, though will have a hard job to emulate some of the other really fine alpine nurseries that come along to the Shows. Just as important in my view is to stimulate much greater interest in these plants in general, which finds a great resonance for the nurseryman who views them as much more than just commodities to be bought and sold. That has been part of the reason I have been so vocal on the Forums. I do think there is beginning to be greater interest again in alpines (in the broadest colloquial sense) amongst gardeners, but we will have wait to see if that also applies to the particular plants we grow too! Rather than repeat the details of the planting and ongoing descriptions here, I will direct those interested to the thread on the SRGC Forum, under Blogs and Diaries (which includes some other really fascinating gardens and projects).
This bed has been fallow for quite a few years and is full of weed seed! The wooden edging is to allow a thick top-dressing with coarse gravel. When I made the bed over twenty years ago the intention was to cover the breeze blocks with hypertufa - well I never did(!), but intend to do so now. A good example of the long time scale of a garden evolving! The small strip along the front contains alternating dainthus and dwarf iris cultivars, and will be edged with wood as well to contain the top-dressing. There are something like 50 or 60 plants on this bed - the nursery probably needs 10 or twenty times this number to give a good variety, so in addition to what is planted elsewhere now, there will probably be future projects in the pipeline!
Gardeners regularly use this term to describe how conditions in different parts of a garden can be capitalised on for different plants. It is little different to the way that one might see plants of very different needs in close proximity in Nature. And the term 'microclimate' is just what it says; a difference in growing conditions can occur within no distance at all. I have always wanted to grow more ericaceous plants, but our garden can be exceptionally dry in summer, so I have tried several species along the north side and base of a sleeper raised bed. The bed itself has a minimum of 50% grit and chippings and many species from very dry climates. But along the base it stays cool and moist, even through the exceptionally dry summer we have just had, and I have added plenty of composted bark and ericaceous soil to open the texture of our quite stiiff loam (fortunately of pretty neutral pH). The bed has been watered occasionally, but this cannot overcome the naturally dry atmosphere of our garden, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see how well these few plants have done. Our annual rainfall lies between 25 and at most 30 inches per year, with fairly routine heat and relative drought in summer. This first picture shows two small rhododendrons and andromeda. The stones are simply there to prevent visitors from treading on the plants, which the less observant regularly do!
These are a wonderfully appealing range of plants, especially when you view them as not so suitable for your garden (i.e: 'the grass is always greener...'). Andromeda polifolia 'Blue Ice' has made a fine bush, along with Cassiope lycopodioides 'Jim Lever' and Cyathodes colensoi. Several dwarf rhododendrons have done well here and elsewhere in the garden, and perhaps are more tolerant of drier weather than I had appreciated. This is very encouraging and an indication that you shouldn't take too much notice of what books and other gardeners tell you, unless they can show it to you as well! Our purpose in growing these plants is both aesthetic and practical, and they are potentially a very interesting new range of species to propagate for the nursery.
The western end of the bed has been used in a different way by removing a spade's depth of soil and replacing with fine sharp sand; the reasoning being that this will also be cooler and moister than the main bed and perhaps suitable for saxifrages and other plants that so easily burn off in our summers. To some extent this has worked, but this summer was too much for a number of the former, even with extra watering. Again though I have been pleasantly surprised to find species like Bolax gummifer, Celmisia sessiliflora and the lovely dwarf willow Salix reticulata, coping with our summer weather. I have made more of an effort to water these plants, but on occasion forgot when other parts of the garden needed attention, and this must be a test of whether growing conditions are effective. This will probably come as no great surprise to many enthusiastic alpine gardeners who do grow a wide range of species in the garden, but every garden differs and seeing the experience of others can stimulate you to try plants you may not have considered. Success can then lead on to trying many other species based on that experience and the garden becomes richer and more interesting - and, like growing plants in pots, there is great joy in finding success with species many regard as tricky and difficult. The South African Helichrysum milfordiae grows in the sand bed in our front garden, none too happily, and after listening to Peter Korn speaking of this plant I am now trying it here where the moisture levels will be greater, but drainage still very good.
I can't pretend that these plantings are particularly artistic in the way that a crevice bed or carefully planted trough might be, and it would be nice to work on growing plants in that way too. But the experience has helped to define what conditions are (reasonably) successful for none too easy species, and gardening with alpines is very much a learning experience - hopefully this might stimulate others to experiment with more plants in the garden. Maybe next year I will be able to prove that Primula reidii (which I grew very many years ago quite successfuly on the nursery, before I knew this was impossible!) has now taken to our garden again, along with shortias, diapensias, and the odd blue poppy. Well what are dreams made of, and trying the impossible might improve success with the more possible.
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