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A summer of highs & lows – September 2018

September 29, 2018
Beth Chatto's Gardens

Beth Chatto Gardens

This has been an extraordinary year by any standards, beginning with the arctic blast of early March which decimated many evergreens in our garden, killing some outright such as a large Eriobotrya grown from seed, and damaging many others so extensively that only now six months later are signs of life re-emerging. Follow that with the relentless hot and dry summer – which if you run a nursery along with a garden takes a serious toll on time and energy – then only as autumn brings cooling days and rain is there relief to sit back and take stock.

Fortunately, despite many losses from both extremes, the garden has always been planted with this in mind, because of our south-east climate which so often catches those hot continental summers of mainland Europe (and from early on we learnt from Beth Chatto’s garden as pictured above), so it has still had many highlights and the theme of restoring and replanting overgrown and weedy areas has continued step-by-step.

In between there have been highlights elsewhere, especially visits to Cambridge and Ventnor Botanic Gardens, to Abbotsbury, and, at the end of August, the extraordinary and rather unique Symposium on ‘Ecological Planting in the 21st Century’ held by the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex (which friends gave me the opportunity to attend very unexpectedly).

It would be good to look back on these and comment on them more extensively on this diary because in their different ways they do have relevance to the AGS, simply because of the passionate interest in plants per se that underlies all that we do. The latter was particularly stimulating because of the huge diversity of gardeners, professional and amateur, who attended it. It looked much more to landscape design and perennials than private gardeners – and certainly many AGS members – will, and herein is a strong debate for UK horticulture. What role do the more specialist societies – and nurseries – and private gardeners play in the future? How do you you personally reconcile the broad sweep of gardening with the intimate detail? The pictures below are of discussions between the speakers at the Symposium, who all have their own very individual views and concepts of plants and the ways they use them.

Beth Chatto Symposium 2018 Beth Chatto Symposium 2018

For now though, as I write this on a rainy day in September, I’ll return more closely to the garden here this autumn.  Autumn has that moment when it arrives in rather dishevelled state, dry summer or not. Long warm days simply encourage rank growth when your attention is divided between different parts of a large garden, as well as maintaining an area of nursery and propagation.

This picture shows the small bed in the middle of our lawn (that I have shown before), just in advance of the time when Crocus speciosus emerges and as Cyclamen hederifolium gets into its stride. Charitably you might call it a ‘bad hair day’!

I’ve accumulated 150 or more still photos of this one bed through the year, taken from precisely the same marked spot, and hope my expertise with the computer will enable these to be converted into a time-lapse film to show the amazing succession that can happen in just a few square yards of ground. At the moment the detail of cyclamen and sedums, and a few late flowers of erodium, light up this bed.

bulb bed kent diary 2018

Bulb bed

Another patch of cyclamen loves the accumulated needle-mould under what is now becoming a very large Cedrus deodara (after forty years), very dry in summer, and competes with Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ in dramatic fashion. Not much else prospers here except for a nice fine leaved Dicentra obtained from Washfield Nursery many years ago, and dormant in summer, a few hellebores and Mandragora officinarum.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium

The tetraploid C. confusum has made a nice clump here too, with especially richly coloured and large flowers. Cyclamen purpurascens survives but doesn’t really prosper now, though it made a lovely plant initially a decade or more ago when the tree was smaller and less thirsty. We should move it to a better place, one of those experiences that a maturing garden teaches more and more.

Cyclamen confusum

Cyclamen confusum

Cyclamen hederifolium just gets better and better every year and we have planted out hundreds of selected plants grown originally from Archibald seed, well illustrated by this patch beneath a crab-apple in the dry south-east corner of the garden, mixed with fallen fruit from the adjacent hedge.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium

It’s that moment to catch seed… (actually this was back in early August before the flowers emerged).

Cyclamen seed

Cyclamen seed

…and amazingly, despite this desiccating summer, Trillium kurabayashii has produced plenty of seed too.

Trillium kurabayashii

Trillium kurabayashii

We have sown this fresh after treating it with hydrogen peroxide, as recommended in the Case’s book to remove the elaiosome.

We’ve grown forms of C. graecum outside for many years hoping our warmer climate might encourage flowering but rarely with any real show, though the leaves are lovely in themselves. However, this especially hot summer has stimulated better flowering, as in this plant at the foot of an Acer capillipes.

Much of this part of the garden was previously overgrown and shaded by a large Photinia ‘Red Robin’, which has now been climatically coppiced by the arctic weather of March. It has opened up a good new warm and protected area for replanting and added stimulus to the concerted efforts to bring back the bramble and nettle over-run centre of the garden.

Viewed from above, pruning dead wood out of an Eucryphia, gives a better impression of this patch. The young plants here are dryland species and cultivars such as Cistus ‘Warley Rose’, Diascia vigilisSedum ussuriensePapaver pilosum and Salvia blancoana.  A couple of interesting umbels, species of Seseli, have gone here too, and in the background Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ (which I pictured last autumn at Graham Gough’s garden and nursery, Marchants). It will be exciting to see how this planting matures over the next year or two.

Autumn is a forgiving time because the seasonal changes into winter allow the garden to relax its perpetual expansion and growth and recoup resources back into the ground. There is that last blaze of colour and drama so nicely described by the American gardener Allen Lacy in his book The Garden in Autumn who emphasises how this is such a notable time in the North American climate, and flora.

‘The lands are lit

With all the autumn blaze of Golden Rod

And everywhere the purple aster nod

And bend and wave and flit.’

[Helen Hunt]

Autumn is a time of rather lovely moments as late flowers, fruits and colouring leaves all coincide in a crescendo well worth gardening for as much as spring, because it has the same capacity to be extended in interest and drama over several months.

Image of Tim Ingram Tim Ingram

Tim Ingram runs Copton Ash Nursery in Faversham, Kent with his wife Gillian. He has has a keen interest in plants since childhoos and his first patch was a raised rock garden in his teens.

Tim has been a member of the Alpine Garden Society for most of his gardening life. He is also an active member of two AGS groups: East Kent and Mid Kent.