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On a Chalk Hillside September 2019

Gravel Garden Planting – The Acer Walk
To remind you where the Acer Walk was in the layout I am describing I am starting with the plan photo I showed you last time:- 

Area A:- Acer Walk
Area B:- Mediterranean Maquis
Area C:- Herbaceous planting for July on
Area D:- Subshrubs/shrubs and bulbs
Area E:- shade border (very small)
Area F:- Shrubbery

As I said last month originally the idea was that the Maquis would come down the hill at the bottom of the gravel garden and meet the Mediterranean Courtyard so you had sunbaked aromatics as you sat on the courtyard, but over the months that elapsed from moving the plants in the original hospital bed to create the courtyard until we created the gravel garden a new idea emerged.  Two of the plants that had been moved into the new hospital bed in our “allotment” in our neighbours garden were two Acer palmatum 'Dissectum' about 60cm tall that my sister had dug out of her garden and given us a few years before.  These had been put on the lower edge of the new hospital bed, and as we worked in the vegetable garden and rested on the bench at the bottom of the slope we looked up at these acers through the summer and autumn.  We kept remarking on their progress, their foliage, their colour and it dawned on us that we were appreciating them much more being able to look into or up at them when seated than we did glancing down at them previously.  Hmm, how could we replicate this?  

We were so taken with them that the original idea of them as part of the shrubbery area was replaced with an intention to place them centre stage, on the edge of the hillside, so that we could look into them from the courtyard.   There would be a gravel “path” behind them so that you could walk through the gravel garden and see the Maquis on one side and the acers on the other, and as the Maquis was to be very low growing, nothing would detract from the impact of the Acers.  Acers get wind scorched very quickly, and we had lost the ones we brought in pots from London when we moved as there was no shelter from the wind for them here.  Having the wall backing the Courtyard and the fences either side made this a sheltered spot for our acers, and indeed they have thrived.  Here they are early May 2013 starting their second year in the Acer Walk:-

Both of these acers had been in pots for several years in my sister’s garden, before she planted them in the ground, and the red one’s roots were small and coiled compared to the green one’s, even after several years in the ground here.  The red acer is Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Garnet’ .  The green one had been “pruned” by my sister-in-law who has a habit of lopping off the growing point of anything that gets in her way.  Here is a shot from when they were planted in the gravel garden in November 2011 to show you their shape (by then we had already had them for almost 5 years NOT “pruning” them):-

This is what it looked like in leaf in 2012 – bald in the middle!:-

In fact, to be candid I only really wanted the Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Garnet’ when my sister offered them to me, as we were both very fond of red acer’s, having bought seedlings from the bonsai stands at Hampton Court Palace Flower show each year and either putting them in pots in our garden in Harrow (me), or trying to bonsai ones with especially attractive leaves (him).  My sister talked me into having the green leafed one as well.  How glad I am she did -the green one is Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Seiryu’.  What a lovely lovely tree – at almost every time of the year this acer has something of interest and different colours to look at. 
It starts with beautiful buds in a salmon pink in late March and April – here this year:-

These open initially with the red flowers in early April giving a salmon and lime green effect from a distance:-

A week later on 23 April this year both acers’ new leaves looked like this:-

Beautiful!  As the summer progresses the leaves of Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Seiryu’ start taking on a few coppery tones.  I note it looking ‘different’ from late July usually, perhaps you can notice the tonal difference from the above picture to the next one taken on 21st July?

As September ebbs into October the tree takes on the most beautiful yellowy orange tones, starting off looking like highlights, and then getting more and more intense – here at the end of October last year:-

Then by a week later on 6 November last year it was entirely caramel:-

By 19th November all the leaves had fallen:-

A stunning russet carpet for a few days.  In case you were wondering, in the past three years it has started to fill up its “bald” spot as you can see in this shot from the beginning of June this year:-

Perhaps you can see the Erigeron karvinskianus flowering at the front?   Beside that is Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’ which I have shown you before flowering in the rose garden – it starts flowering in March and keeps going for at least a month as you can see from the picture below from mid April 2015 showing the Acer Walk with all the spring bulbs:-

The above picture shows the general layout of the other planting round the acers – taking advantage of the deciduous nature of the acers (and their diminutive stature) I have snowdrops and dwarf spring bulbs such as Narcissus 'Minnow' which you can see flowering round Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Garnet’.  As you can see, the Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’ overshadows the Erigeron karvinskianus at this time of year, and then they swap over in impact by June.
You may recall from last month that I had planted Sedum spurium ‘Red carpet’  round both acers together with a green leafed one with yellow flowers (Sedum stenopetalum) on the left as you look at the above picture.  Under the Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Seiryu’ I planted a blue-flowered anemone blanda here flowering with the red sedum ‘branches’ at the beginning of March 2017:-

As you will have noticed from the original planting photo from 2011 I had spread out a big clump of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, which I had excavated from my sister’s garden, round the two acers.  The idea was to plant snowdrops through this – inspired by planting I had seen at Hodsock Priory.  I put in Galanthus 'S Arnott' which I had bought from Colesbourne Park under Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Seiryu’, which as you can see from the photo below from mid February this year are spreading, just NOT into the Ophiopogon!

Although the Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is blackest when there is no leaf canopy, it manages to retain its pigment and thrive even in quite deep shade under the acers – as you can see from July this year:-

I try and collect the seeds set from these flowers and resow to help increase my stock, but so far I have not been successful with germination.  As I mentioned refreshing the Maquis planting area last month as well, next month I shall pause in my discussion of the areas of the gravel garden and talk about seed collection/sowing and propagating techniques I use to fill or refresh the garden here with plants.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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