Plants in the Garden: The garden of Margaret Wilson and Peter Jacob
Started by: Tim IngramGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 09 September 2013, 21:22. Go to bottom of this page.
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A few days ago Margaret and Peter kindly invited us over to see their garden on the outskirts of Walmer on the east coast of Kent. Their climate is mild and dry and their garden overlying chalk. This hot and dry summer here in the South East has made gardening quite trying, but Margaret and Peter's garden still had a tremendous amount of colour and interest, and a wonderful variety of plants built up over the past 30 or 40 years. The garden is small enough to allow areas to be kept watered through dry spells, although this can never be the same as good showers of rain. From the back of the house you look down on the main lawn (which is beautifully maintained professionally; as close to a 'green carpet' as I have seen). This part of the garden especially is cleverly colour schemed by Margaret with red and purple flowers and foliage, and the climate is generally mild enough to allow dahlias and gladiolus to overwinter outside (I think winter temperatures rarely drop below around -5°C). On the terrace overlooking the garden there are many plants in pots; hostas, eucomis, cannas, even the variegated Trachelospermum jasminoides (which in our garden has become much too vigorous on the back of the house). So as you walk out of the house you are immediately surrounded by plants, which is a great way to introduce the garden. The range of plants around the garden is especially wide, and even though it is relatively dry and alkaline plants like ferns and arisaemas (rather good foliage combination!) do well with supplementary watering and lots of good compost, which probably brings the soil closer to neutral pH.
Very many AGS members must have this same much broader interest in plants and gardening, which leads to such variety in their gardens. Peter has worked professionally as a gardener for many years, and has a great interest in daphnes, which are a remarkable feature of the garden in the winter and spring, and also in growing plants to exhibit at the AGS Shows. The first two pictures show the small alpine house and cushions of dionysias; several frames alongside contain trilliums, bulbous species and other select plants. It is actually quite encouraging to see how many good show plants can be grown in a relatively small area in the garden, but I think like everyone space becomes a premium, and as plants get bigger and multiply difficult choices have to be made about what to grow. Having said this Peter and Margaret showed a lot of plants at the Spring Rainham Show, including a superb specimen of Tecophilaea cyanocrocus. Outside the door of the greenhouse a couple of pots of the small Eucomis vandermerei 'Octopus' (not hardy) and a good new small hybrid raised in America, 'Leia', (which is hardy - and I wonder what its parentage is?), show what superb plants these are in the autumn. Two larger species on the patio, E. bicolor and E. autumnalis(?), are more familiar. These are reliably hardy in the garden, but can be more vulnerable in pots if the soil freezes, so are best overwintered in a cold greenhouse (at least in colder gardens). They are very moreish plants and a much greater variety are now grown, especially with stronger coloured flowers and foliage. A good collection of the smaller forms would make a wonderful exhibit at the Shows in the autumn.
There are daphes throughout the garden, and most do very well which tells you that their reputation for often being fickle plants is rather undeserved. Even strongly variegated forms like D. odora 'Limelight' (a sport from 'Geisha Girl') makes a reliable and attractive specimen, and Robin White in his book on the genus lauds this as being an attractive and good doer in the garden. The bottom area of the garden is devoted to daphnes growing in shallow gravel beds and with drip irrigation. The fine variegated form of D. odora, 'Mae Jima', is growing well here with many other cultivars.
Peter propagates many daphnes by grafting onto stocks of D. longilobata (shown in the first picture) in a propagation case in the greenhouse. Establishing grafts are grown on outside in an access frame where better exposure to the weather reduces problems with red spider, which can become a particular problem in the alpine house, especially in hot dry years like the present one.
Daphne bholua does very well in the garden (whereas the last two cold winters have killed all the forms we have, except the deciduous 'Gurkha'). The plant shown is perhaps the most tender collection, 'Rupina La', which has very large flowers and only suitable for the mildest gardens or a conservatory. Here it is growing, appropriately, with the very distinctive Roscoea 'Red Gurkha', and the latter genus has become a more recent passion of the garden, with many species and varieties represented. Given the relatively dry climate it is interesting to see these growing successfully and a great encouragement for others, like myself, to try more of these plants of late summer. The Kew monograph on the genus, which Peter showed me, only adds to this encouragement!
This year has been a particular test of these plants, and though they may not be as lush and long flowering as in a garden with more summer rainfall, they still bring immense interest to the garden.
A garden as long established as this also contains some very well established trees and shrubs, which on occasion can be a trial as much as a benefit (i.e: they can provide valuable shade and structure but also transpire a great deal of the moisture in the soil and make areas extremely dry at times). A very large cherry in the middle of the garden was showing signs of die back and has been removed, opening up the view below the garden effectively (see the last photo). Hibiscus, which are normally pruned regularly, are here left to make small trees and it quite a revelation to see flowers on them 10 feet or more above the ground! Probably the most choice tree of all is a variegated specimen of Aralia elata - a really glorious plant in the middle of the garden. In flower it is irresistable to bees as the second picture shows. Elsewhere there are rare shrubs like Buddleja crispa and Cestrum 'Newellii'; the latter a stuuning flowering shrub for the mildest of gardens. In the front garden, by the road, is a variegated form of Clerodendron trichotomum, 'Carnival', free flowering and wonderfully vanilla scented. This is a plant definitely on the list for our garden in the future, making a much smaller and neater plant than its green leaved parent.
It is always a great privilege to see the gardens of others. One comes away with refreshed interest in trying new plants in your own garden, and a great deal of education which doesn't necessarily equate with the gardening lore of magazines and books. Anyone who has gardened for many years also can closely identify with a garden full of so many unusual and exciting plants. The last picture shows the low evening light and remains of a very enjoyable meal in the garden; two forms of Daphne bholua on either side of the steps; and the end of a lovely day out. With grateful thanks to Margaret and Peter.
The garden will be open for the National Garden Scheme next year in April (please refer to the Yellow Book), at peak time for the daphnes and many of the alpines (which are grown in several places that I haven't shown). And I am sure Margaret and Peter would welcome AGS visitors at other times too, who have ventured into eastern Kent. The gardens at Walmer Castle, and the Salutation Garden in Sandwich are nearby, as well as to the south the fascinating and establishing chalk flora and fauna on Samphire Ho (the spoils of building the Channel tunnel).
Nice coverage for this cute garden.I add it to my NGS Kent road book.