With no shows to photograph, I have had little material to write about in recent weeks. However, several friends have asked me to post some pictures from my garden.
My garden is certainly not wonderful (I spend too much time messing about with a camera), but it is looking tidier this year than it has done for some time. Many other members, including some of our diarists, have much better displays. So don’t expect miracles, but here are a few pictures. These are snapshots taken to record flowers I thought were interesting, and were not taken with the care and attention given to plants at shows.
The main feature of the front garden is a crevice garden. I have been thinking that it has looked a bit tired in the last couple of years; but working through some old photos I realised that I built and planted it about 11 years ago, so it is not a surprise it needs an overhaul.
The bottom side of this area has been taken over by a rather invasive perennial grass (shown in the picture of the Pulsatilla), so I have already spent several days digging through this area carefully. I have potted up any salvageable plants (sadly not the Pulsatilla), and am now trying to keep the local cats off whilst waiting for the grass roots I missed to re-sprout. Probably I won’t re-plant much until late summer now.
I spent two days on my knees weeding the crevice area. Many of the more choice plants have gone, though there is a mass of my favourite Erinus alpinus seedlings to flower in May. The soil here has become very impoverished and needs improvement. It gets very dry in the summer, and far too wet in the winter. And the ants need discouraging. This is not a job I can tackle without access to horticultural supplies, so I will have to leave it for the time being. I don’t want to plant out anything special in the meantime, though Pulsatilla seedlings seem to thrive.
Outside the path around the crevice garden, there is an herbaceous border. One year I missed removing the seed from my original red Helleborus x hybridus before it broadcast them. Now there is a host of seedlings in mainly red shades. That reminds me – I need to do that job again this year, and quite soon.
One of the early season features of the herbaceous border are groups of tulips, which seem to grow well in the clay here. I’m not sure what the first one is; it has the same raspberry-ripple colour scheme as ‘Flaming Purissima’ which went over before I started taking photos. My wife calls both of them the ‘ice cream tulips’. The white tulip is ‘Purissima’ but I have lost the label for the yellow one.
I’m not sure what species this Asphodelus is, but it is very happy in the border here; I have grown several from AGS seed over the years and they look pretty similar.
Also in the herbaceous border are the lovely bleeding hearts of Dicentra spectabilis (Lamprocapnos spectabilis now). I see that behind them are some Spanish bluebells which escaped my last purge; time to get the border fork out again.
In the shade on this north side of the house there is a group of mature ‘dwarf’ rhododendrons which have flowered well this year (and one Daphne which smells lovely at the moment). I am not sure what the white one is, but the pink is Rhododendron ‘Razorbill’.
Underneath and between the rhododendrons there is an assortment of shade-loving plants. Here are Anemone appenina and the pristine Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’.
Still under the rhododendrons, I’m not sure what this Scilla is (possibly S. litardieri), but it seems to be reaching the point of needing control. Neither of the labels in the photo with the little peony is for a Paeonia, so that is a mystery as well.
One plant which thrives in this part of the garden is Pulsatilla vulgaris, and even when I remove the seedheads I seem to get seedlings everywhere.
My favourite colours seem to be recessive; although there are pink, white and pale blue forms here, the seedlings are predominantly red to purple.
I was interested in this seedling though – it seems to owe something to a plant with very dark red flowers I grew 10 years ago as Pulsatilla rubra (second photo).
In a trough in the back garden there is an even darker seedling, label long vanished. I’m fairly sure this is Pulsatilla rubra subsp. hispanica.
Sadly, my two favourites have now departed. The first was a fabulous white clone of P. vulgaris. The other, shown in a photo from 10 years ago, came to me as ‘Rode Klokke’. I would love to grow it again, but seed received under this name has so far failed to produce the same fabulous colour.
I am going to move round now to the back garden. Again the dominant feature is a rock garden, to one side of a lawn stretching up to a (too large) fruiting cherry which feeds the pigeons every year. But this rock garden is rather different. Instead of the easy to handle bits of paving which make up the crevice garden, the main structure here is made up of large quarried lumps of Purbeck limestone. The largest of these are 6-8 hundredweight, and were difficult to manoeuvre even when I built it 30 years ago.
I rebuilt this rock garden 3-4 years ago, to try to create the effect of limestone pavement. That has worked reasonably well, though a few pieces of paving have moved and sunk, and need re-laying.
In part because of the shade provided by the cherry, one of the main weeds here is the common primrose. However, I love them, and only weed them out selectively when they are competing with other plants.
Despite their tendency to hybridise with the primroses, there are still a few oxlips around in shady corners.
At the back of the rock garden, between it and the greenhouse, there is a woodland bed where I have planted many plants which like a woodland soil and semi-shade. Anemone and Erythronium (all over) feature here, and the peonies are mostly still to come, but Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ is putting on a fine display at the moment. The first peony in flower came to me named P. emodi which it clearly isn’t; I think it is probably a P. mlokosewitschii seedling.
On the back of the house there is a large specimen of Rosa ‘Mermaid’, which was completely obscuring our bedroom window. This is what it looked like after I spent a testing Sunday wrestling it into submission. It may be beautiful (large single primrose-yellow blooms), but it is the most vicious rose I have ever grown.
At the base of this south-facing wall are two troughs linked by crevice rock work. The further one is in the midst of a makeover; the nearer one looks attractive with a few flowers appearing.
Opposite these, my large plant of Deutzia ‘Nikko’ is just coming into flower, roughly six feet across. Other plants compete with it on all sides. A pink rockrose is peering over the top, whilst the blue Lithodora oleifolia springs out of a hole in the wall below it. Somewhere in the middle is a white self-sown Cyclamen hederifolium with huge leaves.
I remember visiting Joy and Jack Hulme’s garden in Woking roughly 30 years ago, and encountering a similar specimen, which is what inspired me to grow it.
Next to the Deutzia, this lovely Phlox tumbles over the wall which provides a parking bay for the dustbin.
The flat gravelled area around the base of the rock garden showcases a succession of miniature tulips, which thrive here on the clay. Two weeks ago the cerise flowers of Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ dominated, followed by the scarlet, yellow and black of ‘Little Princess’.
More recently, clumps of different Tulipa batalinii cultivars have come to the fore. The yellow one is, I think, ‘Apricot Gem’ whilst the red is ‘Salmon Gem’. I remember being disappointed when that was first sent to me as a replacement for another cultivar I wanted badly. When it first flowered I was surprised how much I liked it. ‘Honky Tonk’ is another excellent performer – a much paler yellow.
On the rock garden proper there are as yet relatively few flowers apart from the primroses. This Armeria is always early, and I was pleased to see a Primula hybrid flowering (with P. auricula in its ancestry from the look of it).
As in the front garden, the most impressive plants in this snapshot of the season are Pulsatilla vulgaris. The first is a plant I grew from seed from Robin White with small neat deep purple upward facing flowers; several seedlings are flowering now, more or identical to each other and to their parent.
The second Pulsatilla is this garden centre selection, now making a fine plant with pale pink flowers.
My final plant from the rock garden is this wonderful deep purple dwarf bearded iris purchased at one of the shows a couple of years ago. I have no idea of the cultivar name; the label has either been removed by blackbirds or buried so carefully to prevent this, that I shall only find out the name of the plant when it dies. [Edit: I did some careful excavation and found the label – this is Iris pumila ‘Nicola’].
I’m going to end this trip round the garden with a look at the plants in pots, in frames or in the greenhouses. Towards the end of March I was delighted to find that the seedling of P. clusii which I have struggled with for years had finally grown large enough to flower for the first time. What a beauty ! I was so pleased. It would definitely have gone to a show, though a plant with a single flower is unlikely to attract plaudits from the judges.
Some of you will remember the miniature garden filled with cacti which I exhibited for the first time last summer. I grew this South African succulent from seed at least 10 years ago (probably 15), and for all that time it has sat in a pot and sulked. 18 months ago I planted it out into the miniature garden, and in March it flowered for the first time.
The Erythronium I still grow in pots in a shaded frame bloomed briefly in early April, but many didn’t grow to their normal size, discouraged by the hot dry weather, and all went over very quickly. Perhaps the pick of the bunch was E. ‘Harvington Sunshine’ with these strong yellow flowers.
In the same frame I grow this deep pink Thalictrum; it grows perfectly well in the front garden in woodland soil underneath the rhododendrons, but I like to keep this dark form where I can enjoy it. Also, there are a number of seedlings of Trillium (now Pseudotrillium) rivale, including this form with very rounded petals and full flowers.
There are lots of other plants in pots in the frames or standing around in the open, either in shade or in the sun. This lovely golden yellow buttercup is one – a kind gift from a senior exhibitor when I complained that I was struggling to find a nursery which still sold this single form.
Moving into a sunnier area, these are the first flowers on a lovely new Phlox which came to me from Tim Lever at Aberconwy Nursery (originally from Paul Cumbleton, who brought it back from a Czech Republic garden).
This is a plant I have always loved. In the garden it becomes invasive and then dies out when it can no longer find new ground. In a pot it has a tendency to exhaust its soil quickly, so it needs feeding and repotting regularly. I think it will never make a show plant – it tends to produce one or two flowers at a time over a long period.
This is probably my favourite miniature Dianthus. I have seldom grown it much bigger than this, and find myself replacing it every two years or so from Tim Lever; it has a tendency to flower itself to death.
Another special plant from Aberconwy – this tiny yellow iris. It is only in a four inch pot but it has had loads of flowers on.
I have been growing this daffodil for a couple of years now. It is a little later than many, and makes a fine display, though it was going over by the time I took the photo.
In the bulb frame, a late flower on Tulipa heweri (yellow) is partnered by a single bloom from the exquisite T. cretica.
I have kept a few Pulsatilla in pots, including this fine pink form of Pulsatilla ambigua.
Pride of place, however, goes to this little plant in a 4in pot which I got from Tim Lever last year. This tiny 2in bun of foliage has produced no less than six flowers. Again, this is a plant which would definitely have gone to a show another year.
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Moving now into my greenhouse, the first thing to show you is this lovely Gladiolus, flowering in early April. It grows perfectly well in the open garden, where it is just coming into flower two weeks later, but it has become a greenhouse weed, and I am forever collecting seedlings from the pots of other plants.
Another South African Gladiolus; this one is tiny and has the most delicate wire-like stems, but seems to be happy.
I love this pink hybrid of the normally orange/red Freesia laxa. I have grown it for years, but never seem to be able to get it to bulk up enough to make a showable potful, even if I could cure its habit of lying across other pots.
Now a surprise. I sowed seed of this South African species some years ago. The bulbs were still small (c. 2cm), so it is still in a 4in pot. So I was somewhat surprised when this tiny pot produced a four foot flower spike as thick as my finger, with green-keeled white flowers just opening. Spectacular, but not exactly suitable for an AGS show. I shall have to think about where and how I want to grow it.
This little species is much more suitable in terms of stature. I took it to the East Anglia show last year, but the flowers were not quite ready to open. This year it is earlier, so here they are. I think this is probably the same plant discussed on the Pacific Bulb Society website as Albuca sp. ‘Augrabies Hills’.
This is another South African bulb I have grown for a long time, though I’m not sure the species given is correct. The flowers are interesting rather than pretty, and short lived, on tall branching flower stems; a succession of flowers is produced over several weeks. The plant grows from small, flattened, potato-like corms which accumulate into a chain or stack. It resents disturbance, and if the chains of corms are broken up it can be a while before they settle to flower again. I grow it at the bottom of a deep pot; rather than repotting I refresh the soil above the corms every 2-3 years.
This was another surprise. I usually have very little success with these little fugacious species (the flowers open mid-morning and last only a few hours), so I was pleased to find a flower on a 4in spike. Unfortunately it isn’t what the label claimed it to be (the fabulous Moraea atropunctata), but probably Moraea vegeta. I’m still delighted to have got it to flower.
This is another Moraea, this time from the group formerly called Homeria, but again I am not absolutely sure of the species id. Unlike the former species, this has become a weed in my greenhouse, and would probably be fine outside, or certainly in a cold frame. I got seed of it many years ago from a member who grew it outdoors in Midhurst.
At the moment it is in a pot in the greenhouse; it doesn’t flourish in its own pot but seedlings keep appearing and flowering elsewhere. The tall branching flowering stems (18-24in) are self-supporting, and produce a succession of large (2in) salmon-coloured blooms.
By contrast, this is a new plant to me last year, from the Southern African Bulb Group bulb and seed exchange which I run each year. The donor grows this outdoors in Cornwall. I was very pleased to get this fine display of 2in yellow and white flowers, but in the greenhouse the stems tend to get tall and floppy, so I will probably move it out to the frame.
I showed this little Nothoscordum twice last year. If there had been a show this weekend, it might just have won me one of the four firsts I still need for my gold medal.
This species hails from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina where it grows on heavy clay soils in full sun in lowland meadows and roadsides.
Some of the bulb specialists in North America grow it well, but we seldom see it in this country, except in the subspecies N. montevidense subsp. minarum. That has larger bulbs which are slow to increase, and smaller flowers in larger umbels on longer stems.
Although people say this is easy to grow from seed, I have never succeeded in doing so, and these plants are multiplied from three bulbs I received from a North American friend over ten years ago. In cultivation it benefits from regular water and feeding when in growth. Given summer moisture it will remain green and flower sporadically all summer, but I find it is better given a dry summer rest, which encourages a better second flush of flowers in October.
This year, two new Tropaeolum hybrid seedlings have bloomed. Both are very pale pink or lilac, though the buds are much darker, and both seem to have T. austropurpureum in their ancestry.
I was particularly excited this year to have two new seedlings of T. kingii, from Scottish Rock Garden Club seed in 2017. Both have flowered and I have been doing my best to act like a bee.
This plant is known for being very scarce in cultivation, and difficult to grow, tubers often remaining dormant for years. Previously I had just one tuber, grown from seed in 2003. That grows about one year in four, and last flowered well in 2012, though it has buds on it again this year.
Now the flowers on my original plant have opened (see below). By comparison they seem slimmer and more graceful, and less dumpy. But both have the distinctive long upturned spur. I am wondering if one of the two forms is something else, or a hybrid.
Finally, here is my plant of Daphne gemmata ‘Sciringa’, another kind gift from another exhibitor. This would certainly have gone to a show if that had been possible, and might have added to my tally. I think I will now have to move it on from its 19cm pot; that will be a risky exercise, as Daphne dislike root-disturbance.
Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is especially interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.
However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He is still actively involved in plant photography, both at shows (he visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors) and in gardens both public and private, and he makes regular outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.
If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at email@example.com