Writings from Wales June 2014
We spent the first full week of the month on holiday in Somerset. We hired a cottage in the small village of Isle Brewers and spent the time walking and visiting gardens. All of the ones we visited had something to teach us and we have come back with several ideas for our own plot. As a lover of trees, shrubs and woodland plants, Knightshayes was my favourite, but the bog garden in Forde Abbey deserves a special mention. When we visited, the various species of candelabra primulas were in flower and making a great show. However, the Rodgersias and Astilbes were waiting in the wings, and the foliage planting was excellent so I think it will look good at any time in the summer. I was particularly impressed by a healthy clump of Persicaria milletii. I tried this several years ago in a damp area of our garden, but it did not thrive and gradually died. Wendy has grown some from seed and we are trying again, but we cannot give it the ideal site it has in Forde Abbey. At the edge of a running stream it gets reliable moisture, sun and good soil aeration.
Before we went, we downloaded the Somerset HPS groups leaflet of nurseries to visit in the area. We need not have bothered. It was well distributed and available in most of the gardens we visited. It was very useful. In particular it told us of Mallet Court nursery which was only three or so miles from our cottage. If you are a lover of rare and unusual trees and shrubs, then you must visit it. They specialise in Oaks and Maples, but have a huge range of other genera. We did not visit until our last day, and the car was already quite full, so I limited myself to two purchases. Both were grown from seed collected recently in North Vietnam by Clark, Wilson and Taggart. One is a Hydrangea heteromalla. The other is a Clethra species, so far unidentified, which will make a great addition to my National Collection.
On the return journey we stopped in Pan Global Plants to pick up a Clethera kaipoensis that I had ordered. We also managed to find spaces in the car to pack in a few other plants. I was particularly pleased to find the narrow leaved form of Helwingia himalaica. Helwingias are novel in that they produce their flowers in the middle of their leaves.
I have grown this for several years now. It has proved to be quite hardy, although it did lose many of its leaves in the bad winter a few years ago. The flowers are formed at the end of axial shoots as with many other shrubs, but this shoot grows fused to the leaf petiole and emerges in the centre of the leaf. You can sort of see this in the photo in that the mid-rib of the leaf is thick and dark red until the flower emerges and then becomes much thinner and lighter in colour. They are dioecious plants and mine is a male. This is disappointing as the fruit is a black berry which grows on the centre of the leaf and looks very strange. (There is a good photo of this on-line in the helwingia page of Flora of China.) I am hoping my new plant will be female, and that they hybridise easily.
We returned to rampant growth, mainly of weeds, but many plants came into flower in our absence. Probably the star at the moment is Cornus kousa Miss Satomi. We bought this as a small plant in 2003. It has grown well in the ten years since and makes a good show most years. I have a few other species and varieties of flowering dogwood. Amongst these is Eddies White Wonder which flowers well quite early in the year. Another good one is Norman Hadden. This has only been with us for three years. It is growing strongly and flowering well already, but Satomi is the best of them.
The other star at the moment is Rosa Pauls Himalayan Musk. We bought this at an NGS open day 10 years ago. We planted it to grow into a birch tree in the beds behind the large natural pond. It needed some help in the first few years to get up to the birchs branching point, but once there it romped away. It is not a repeat flowerer, but for a couple of weeks a year it is superb. I have started collecting seed already. So far I have good samples of Ypsilandra thibetica and Romanzoffia californica. Jeffersonia diphylla will be ready soon. Last year I missed them and they scattered their seed into the path. Not a tragedy as I found quite a few little seedlings this year that will help to extend the patch.
Finally a description of one of our garden areas. This month I will deal with the Slate Garden. This is an area approximately 25 ft square, close to the house, that was accidentally cut off by other things we were doing. When we got around to developing it we realised that more by good luck than planning we had a nicely contained, sheltered area that would make a great place to sit with coffee and croissant on a Sunday morning. We decided on a semi-formal area with raised beds, ponds and a rill. We sketched it out. I dug out the small pond and the rill, and Wendy set about laying the blocks. There are four raised beds of different heights, one containing a pond. A rill runs from the base of this raised pond to a small sunken pond and the illusion is given that the water emerges from a tall obelisk in the raised pond, flows out of it from a spout into the rill (between the two clipped boxes in the picture) and ends up in the small pond. In fact there are two pumps: one driving the fountain and the other pumping water from the small pond to the spout. The picture is taken of the garden from where a small cafe table and two chairs provide the required coffee/croissant space! It is called the slate garden because all the blocks are topped with cut slates and all the beds mulched with chipped slate. The planting has changed over the years. Because it is sheltered, well drained and reasonably sunny we have tended to try borderline-hardy things and many have proved too tender.
I include a photo of one plant from the slate garden. Actually it is planted on the other side of the wall and has climbed over. It is Hydrangea serratifolia. The name must be some sort of botanical joke as the leaves of this hydrangea are completely non-serrated. It is an evergreen climber from South America. The flowers are unusual for hydrangea in having no sterile florets.
Text and photographs by Joe Sime of the HPS Shropshire Group.