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On a Chalk Hillside June 2021

Gravel Garden Planting – The subshrubs and bulbs border 2

So, moving on this month to the part of the ‘L’ shaped bed that runs from the Gunnera manicata bed path to the decking steps above the groynes, and therefore directly above the tiny shade border I talked about two months ago. here is the general shot of the bed in gravel garden as it was created in November 2011, with a strategically placed arrow to remind you where the part of the border we are discussing today lays:-

As you can see, as you come down the garden slope you walk round the bottom of the Gunnera manicata top left of the photo, with the subshrub border on your left as you do so, then down the decking steps, with the short end of the subshrub border on your left, and the small shade border below the groynes.  The long decking pad travels back along the length of the subshrub border, and as you turn to the last decking step down you have the other half of the subshrub border running from the black trellis that the Golden Hop (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus') grows up at its top end, down to the shrub bed which is on the right of this picture which I told you about last month.    This bed is one of the few beds in the garden when at one edge you are towering over the bed, and as you go down the side of it and come back along the other edge, it is towering over you.  
My idea was that the edges of the border that you looked down on would be silver leaved subshrubs.  So as you looked down on the bed from the Gunnera path you saw the tops of a row of lavenders, and as you came down the steps there were a row of maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides), which I grew from seed).   Naturally I can’t find an in focus picture of the pinks in flower in this border so here they are from elsewhere in the garden in mid-June 2018:-

Behind the pinks were to be a Salvia officinalis, nearest the shade border, and a Euphorbia charachias subsp. wulfenii nearest the gunnera walk, as you can see from 14 April 2019:-

Now Euphorbia charachias subsp. wulfenii is a definite star plant for me here – as you can see it is in beautiful flower mid-April, but it starts showing its flower spikes in January – here from 23 January 2019:- 

And just gets more and more spectacular through Feb and March til at its zenith in April.  Most years the contrast of the foliage of the Salvia officinalis against the Euphorbia really makes a statement the whole time.   By March it is joined by the Hyacinths I planted behind it in the border – here in March 19, the woody stems to the left and right are the Salvia, and you can see there is lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’ twining round too.

Over the years this “forest floor” also has had various primula planted in for early spring interest, and behind some of the lavender near the black trellis is followed on in May by the  flowering hardy Geranium Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwerson’s Variety’ as you can see here in May 17:-

By June the Salvia officinalis is in full flower – which fall over the steps as you can see from June 17:-

Looking from the Gunnera path down onto the bed, this is the planting from July 2013 – the second summer after planting:-

You can see the Dianthus deltoides on the right, and the lavender on the top edge.  The white bells are Campanula persicifolia 'White Bell', with a Blue form peeping through behind, and a Lychnis Coronaria mixed in as well.  Off to one side you can see the head of an Allium – Christophii in this case, though others were planted in there further towards the top left.  The tall white flowers are from the clump of Achillia ptarmica which my sister gave me, which I think is the Pearl Group, and which is planted at the front of this bed.  The edge that towered over you had two unidentified hybrid tea roses that had been dug out of the rose garden when the paths were put through it several years before at the front, with a Euphorbia palustris between them, and this Achillia ptarmica (The Pearl Group’) and my Geranium praetense 'Mrs Kendall Clark' blue form, which has quite straggly tall flower stems, and could be staked up so you would really appreciate the beautiful blue of the flowers nearer to your eye level.  
Here from mid June 13, the second year of planting showing these plants (and THAT lavatera,) with the lilac in flower:-

And from May 17 to show you the difference – the Euphorbia has gone, the sage has taken over, and the Geranium praetense 'Mrs Kendall Clarke' is in its pomp:-

And here is a close up of the Geranium in May 17:-

What a beautiful blue flower – and lovely foliage, but it IS straggly, and for me only flowers once.    By June, the Lavatera cachemiriana is in flower – here from June 2016 - with one of the roses, and some Ox Eye Daisies that I planted in the border (they move all by themselves in this garden, and no matter where I put them, they go, via the gravel paths, elsewhere, so are no longer in this border!:-

By June 18, no Ox Eye daisies, but the Salvia is encroaching on Mrs Kendall Clark:-

I have mentioned this plant in passing several times, but the Elephant in the room in this bed is the Lavatera cachemiriana which I planted in the angle of the L.  As you may have noticed in some of the above pictures it quickly grew enormous and dominated the border – as you can see from July 16:-

Perhaps I should say the orange day lilies on the left of the picture are across the steps in another bed – the lavatera had just sprawled over EVERYTHING in the bed.  One reason the Salvia and the Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii have grown out over the steps to try to survive.   But how can you be angry with a plant that looks as beautiful as this:-

It flowers all summer long, as its flowers open from the bottom of the stems upwards in sequence so that it is still In good flower mid Oct 17:-

When I had my first garden in a ground floor flat in a road leading to Leyton Orient Football Ground my neighbours immediately opposite had a pink lavatera growing in their tiny front garden (everyone else in the road, including me had hardstanding with all the wheelie bins on it).  This shrub was pruned into a tall cube, and was in flower all summer long.  I was terribly impressed and told my gardening friend Mary all about it.  She remembered all those years until we moved here to a big garden, and she brought me a cutting from someone elses’ bush that she had rooted for me, carefully wrapped up in a shopping bag.  It always reminds me of her, and of that first garden I had in the 80’s.   However, this plant and the Gunnera manicata in the bed above really point out my inexperience of dealing with gardening on a slope, particularly a slope that faces east.    The amount of shadow cast by any plant or structure on an easterly slope is magnified by the angle of the slope as the sun is always “behind” the plant casting shadow DOWN the hill.  As you can see from the initial photo with the decking steps – the slope here in the garden is quite extreme.  
If I show you the Salvia officinalis and Euphorbia charachias subsp. wulfenii from 14 April 2019 above from a different angle you will see how the Lavatera is growing into them, and how distorted they, and the lavender is:-

You may have noticed from the original photo that there are no longer pinks in front of them, crowded out by the woodier stems above them.  Even with severe pruning – and I do mean severe – the Lavatera cachemiriana simply overwhelms and kills everything underneath it.  The Lavatera is quite brittle so it has a haircut in Autumn to about half height to help stop it splitting away in the winter storms, and then in Jan/Feb it has this sort of cut – here in 2019:-

(Note the small red-breasted helper!).  However the height and girth of the Gunnera manicata in the bed above casts a long shadow as the sun shines from the top of the slope downwards, so any tall plant with solid leaves casts a long shadow over anything below it.  This causes the lavatera to tend to grow forward down the slope – and flop left and right as well as forwards.  It can cover not only the whole of this bed to the steps but the decking pad below so it is impossible to walk up the path.  This is another reason why the small shade border in front is full of such lanky plants – they too are trying to escape the lavatera.  2021 is the year it has to go!  I took cuttings in 2020 so that they can be planted elsewhere, and next month I shall tell you what I have done to rejuvenate this part of the garden.

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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