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On a Chalk Hillside December 2019

Gravel Garden Planting – The Shrubbery part one

Opposite the Acer walk I talked about recently in the gravel garden is the grandly titled Shrubbery.  This is a rectangular bed that has the steps down through the gravel garden on one side, and the boundary fence on the other, perhaps you can see it on the left of the steps in this photo two years after creating the gravel garden, taken in late July 2013:-

And yes you are right, what you can see on the left of the steps are not shrubs!  In fact, though it is called the shrubbery, it has only four main shrubs in it, the remainder of the planting consists of climbers and herbaceous perenials.  As the years pass and the shrubs grow bigger and bigger it does look different from the other beds in that the shrubs give structure all year, and the two most bulky ones are evergreen and therefore give leaf interest all year.  The four shrubs together are designed to give leaf interest all year, with highlights of flowers/colour at different times of the year.    Each shrub was chosen both for its leaf shape and colour, and for its flowering time, as were the climbers that twine through them, so that in general SOMETHING is flowering/colourful most months, not withstanding the perennial plants at the front of the border.  I am going to talk about this bed over two blog articles, as I will be not only describing the original planting in 2011, but also the development of the bed over the intervening years.
The shrubs I planted in the bed in 2011 are (Left to right going down the garden) the grey holly leafed Olearia Macrodonta; Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ - Winter flowering honeysuckle; Rosa Glauca; and Choisya ternata – the Mexican Orange Blossom.  None of these plants were particularly big when planted, but all of them apart from the rose were several years old.  The first two were grown from cuttings, and the Choisya had come with us from our Harrow garden as a 2-litre shrub and been planted into the original hospital bed, which we emptied to make the Mediterranean courtyard.  
The planting idea in all the beds nearest to the Mediterranean courtyard was to have scented plants to enhance the seating experience.  You may recall there was a double white lilac tree immediately by the shed/wall (Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’) which was supposed to flower in April, and the idea was that the Choisya ternata planted on the edge of the shrubbery bed next to it would then pick up the scented white flower baton in May – the Lilac and Choisya had other ideas and ALWAYS flower together in May so the scent is overpowering as you can see here in May 16:-

You can clearly see that the choisya has grown out over the hosereel (and standpipe), and quite a long way forward in the bed too.  This really surprised me as the choisya had just coped in the hospital bed a mere three meters towards the centre of the garden from where it is now planted.  I assumed (clearly wrongly) that it would grow similarly slowly against the fence, but it has romped away growing up, and out.  Here is a close up of the choisya flowers:-

In terms of scented white-flowered plants in this border, the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ starts losing its leaves and flowering in November, and its lovely scented cream flowers, beloved of bees, carry on for many winter months, a delight if you are sitting or working outside in even a little sunshine.   Here it is in January 18:-

This plant is not a twining honeysuckle, it is called a “shrubby” honeysuckle, though in both the original plant I had in Harrow and this specimen it makes a small multistemmed tree.  In this bed the Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is now a tree of about 3 meters height and canopy, matched in height and girth by the Olearia Macrodonta.
Although it does not have scented flowers, the Olearia Macrodonta does have white flowers in clusters in the early summer as you can see here in June 18:-

But really I grow this shrub for its beautiful grey/green holly-shaped leaves.  Although this particular specimen has grown to be a tree – unlike the other three I have elsewhere in the garden – like the Choisya ternata it has grown forward to the edge of the bed as you can see in August 17:-

A climbing frame was erected against the fence behind the choisya and winter flowering honeysuckle with a Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ planted to wind round it and through the shrubs, chosen partly because it’s a “late flowering” honeysuckle (in this garden this means any time from June onwards in practice), and most particularly because of its darker almost glaucous leaves to provide a contrast, as you can see here from May 18 contrasted against the choisya and lilac flowers:-

The climbing frame also had a Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ growing on it, this produces its lovely pink flowers in July as if the Winter flowering honeysuckle has produced them – as here in July 17:-

My favourite plant in this border is my Rosa Glauca which I will talk about next month 

Moving down from this high and mid storey planting to consider the underplanting.  In next months article I will talk about some underplanting that has been less successful, but here is a roll call of the more successful plants (at the very front of the border….) At the front of the right hand edge of the border I planted a pink-flowered dwarf daylily, and another clump of Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’ to tie in with the one planted between the acers in the Acer Walk opposite.  Here the Veronica is in flower in April 17 – note the knitted mass of shrub foliage:-

Next to the Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’, going up the steps, in front of the Rosa Glauca I planted a white flowered geranium with tiny flowers.  I can’t be more specific as I have no idea of its name - it may be a form of Geranium nodosum.  I had bought a newly introduced dwarf purple leafed and flowered geranium from Bloom's, planted it under my forsythia and couldn’t find it the following year.  However, in roughly the same place I found a gangly geranium with tiny blue flowers which grew its sprawling flowering stems up into the forsythia and flowered for many months.  The following year I also found white seedlings with the same characteristic elsewhere in the garden, one of which I planted in the shrubbery.  I have always assumed these were seedlings from the original dwarf geranium – perhaps some of its parents?- but their gangling growth habit make me think they are more woodland oriented than alpine.  If any members of the HPS Geranium Group read this and have any ideas, please leave me a comment.  Here is a close up of the white form flowering in early June 18:-

And here is a shot from June 2013 showing its growth extent through the shrubs:-

Moving up from there, in front of the Olearia macrodonta is planted a white sidalcea, (Sidalcea candida) and some blue flowered Veronica Longifolia, shown here in July 2013:-

As you will have noticed from a picture above, a red-flowered Valarian officionalis has also self-seeded itself in front of the Veronica Longifolia.  At the end of that bed at the front is what I have always called a Euphorbia harlequin with fresh foliage in April 2018:-

However, I cannot find it so named anywhere currently so if anyone has any ideas on its name please let me know.  It’s a harlequin because the leaves start off this colour, and then turn greener through the year, with bright red stems and small yellow/red flowers.  It is a seedling of a seedling from a plant I had in the 90’s in London.  

Scattered throughout the bed are American long spurred yellow aquilegia (Aquilegia longissimma which unlike the selfseeding granny’s bonnets flower through May and June – here in June 2018:-

From the various photos above you can see how much the four main shrubs have grown, completely altering the nature of the bed.  I will talk about this more next month, and what we are doing about it.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

2 Comments To "On a Chalk Hillside December 2019 "

Will Greenfield On 17.12.2019
Is the Euphorbia harlequin possibly Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon'? Reply to this comment
Sheila May On 03.01.2020
That is a great suggestion, Will. I think you could be right. Thanks
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