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Plants in the Garden: Winter 2013

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Started by: Tim Ingram

Go to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 20 January 2014, 19:06. Go to bottom of this page.

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 07 January 2014, 09:56top / bottom of page

The real compensations come from watching the emergence of snowdrops and other plants. The garden is not just a collection of these but a resource which allows them to be propagated and increased. In the light of discussions that have occurred elsewhere about EU regulations and their potential impact on specialist nurseries and societies, and individuals, it doesn't seem lacking in relevance that private gardens and small scale enterprise have as much import in our plant heritage as Botanic gardens and larger scale horticulture - at any rate I like to think so. In addition a garden has connections to other growers and the significant gardeners of the past, which gives it a value rather different to other types of heritage.

Galanthus 'Wendy's Gold', just emerging under the apple trees is a cheering sight, especially since it was so nearly lost to cultivation and nurtured and distributed by Joe Sharman and Bill Clarke. For vigour it is by far the best 'yellow' snowdrop we have in our garden and always exciting to see.

We don't have many very early snowdrops (apart from reginae-olgae and the close peshmenii but a small group of G. 'Castlegar' just beginning to flower is very pleasing. This came from Avon Bulbs. Cyclamen coum is the most colourful plant in the 'woodland' parts of the garden at the moment, and cyclamen in general do really well in our garden, including a fine self-seeding colony of C. pseudibericum. Finally this winter has been so mild relatively (if that is a  dubious compensation for the intense winds and rain) that some alpines like Campanula 'Birch Hybrid' have just carried on flowering continuously from last summer on.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 13 January 2014, 09:55top / bottom of page

Although the weather is a topic of abiding and often frustrating interest it is something gardeners, like farmers, must learn to take in their stride. The fact that our weather is so relatively moderate compared with the extremes in continental regions that have been evident in N. America recently, and carried over to the gales and storms here, is what enables our gardens to be so year round. A dark forbidding sky always brings out the beauty of this trio of birches in our garden - from the left, the native B. pendula, B. ermanii (which has glorious autumn colour compared with the other two) and B. utilis jacquemontii. There can't be many more lovely garden trees, especially during the winter, even though they have rather greedy roots which can dry out the soil greatly in the summer. The last is underplanted with a drift of Cyclamen hederifolium.

Yesterday has seen the first real frost we have had this winter - again bringing out beauty in the detail of plants from Arum italicum 'Pictum' to Daphne arbuscula to the common and garden foxglove. Flowers may be in short supply but the garden still captivates.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 January 2014, 00:48top / bottom of page

The emergence and flowering of snowdrops and later woodland plants makes the garden through January onwards a fascinating place, so long as the weather co-operates. It has been mild enough to get on with weeding and tidying some of these parts of the garden ready for the real flush of snowdrops through February. A few are flowering now, including the diminutive and charming Galanthus reginae-olgae ssp. vernalis 'John Marr' with flowers barely more than a centimetre in size. The foliage of this plant also marks it out from so many other snowdrops. Parts of these 'woodland' areas have been neglected for a year or two and become overrun with nettles seeding in from the neighbouring field. A fine snowdrop flowering here is G. 'Mrs McNamara', one of the earlist that we grow.

Most of the snowdrops are planted in large drifts under rows of dwarf apple trees and it is nice to see these emerging strongly. Amongst them are many other woodlanders and ferns, including a lovely specimen of Asplenium scolopendrium 'Angustatum', which stands out for its fluted and scalloped fronds.

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 January 2014, 13:54top / bottom of page
The value of compost

Steve Jones, in his masterly book 'Darwin's Island', devotes a whole chapter to 'The Worms that Crawl In', based on Charles Darwin's last book ' The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits'. In the garden one of the most important corners must be the humble compost heap - an accelerated version of what goes on naturally in the soil. When you spread good compost on the garden the question can arise: 'which is the most important the compost or the plants?' The third picture, a close up of well decayed compost, brings a glow of satisfaction to the gardener and a wonderful improvement of the soil for the woodland plants I have been describing. On the Kew Gardens blog some time ago, Katie Price described the huge pile of (if I remember rightly) well composted bracken, which is spread every year over the woodland garden. The benefits in feeding the soil and improving moisture retention, and in encouraging turnover of the soil by worms and resultant better aeration, must be very great - from what seems quite a mundane activity. 

The value of compost

Contribution from Tim Ingram 16 January 2014, 14:14top / bottom of page

One can get quite carried away making compost, to the extent of keeping a record of temperature changes over time (and these, amazingly, can top 80°C just for a very short time in well made compost, and stay well above 50°C for a considerable time - pretty effective at killing any weed seed or pestilential weeds like bindweed). The compost heap has its own very interesting and changing ecology over time, with different micro-organisms breaking down vegetable matter at different times, and tolerant of different temperatures and pH. Fungi are especially effective as compost dries out because of their mycelial system which allows them to invade from the wetter peripheries of the heap. Under these conditions worms don't come into play until later on as it cools down.

A Mr Fish denied the talents of worms, but as Steve Jones quotes, Darwin replied that Fish's arguments are 'an instance of that inability to sum up the effects of a continually recurrent cause, which has so often retarded the progress of science, as formerly in the case of geology, and more recently in that of the principle of evolution'. The worm, as every gardener knows (and child too), is a rather wonderful thing!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 20 January 2014, 18:41top / bottom of page

Sometimes when you get the bit between your teeth sustained effort does seem to work. This is the area of the garden that had become seriously overgrown with nettles and other weeds, now returned to something of its original glory. At present not much shows apart from snowdops, eranthis and some early hellebores. But later on the bed also contains species peonies, several lilies and the magnificent umbellifer Molopospermum peloponnesiacum. The last two pictures show a group of an early small form of Galanthus elwesii 'before and after'. Now there is that wonderful prospect of replanting into this area, which will also make sure we care for it more in the future!


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