Writings from Wales July 2014
Weeding continues, but at least it is slowing down. The planting in the mature areas is dense enough to prevent any more seed germination, but the newer beds are still weedy. This is partly my fault for using lazy-mans compost and ditch diggings to build up the beds but, if you can put up with a couple of years of hard weeding, it does make very good soil. There is a competition for Weed of the Year between oak seedlings and pearlwort. The former are at their worst in the shade beds under our mature oaks. I thought I had weeded them all out in the last pass, but now a month later there is another oak lawn growing in the leaf mould. Pearlwort is at its worst in the damp areas, particularly in the vegetable garden where the over-wintering onions are planted. The oaks are far easier to deal with!
Gerald is still cutting the various hornbeam and beach hedges. These have grown particularly strongly this year. He should finish by the end of the month and then he starts cutting down the long grass and wild flowers in the wilder parts of the garden.
The hydrangeas are flowering much earlier this year than last, with the macrophyllas and serratas both looking good. However, I bored you with hydrangeas last year so need to find something else to talk about. The arisaemas are not as pretty, but they are looking impressive. Im not a true arisaema anorak but I do like them a lot. It is the leaves that are the attraction. There are three basic floor plans. In pedate leaves the central stem (actually a pseudostem) splits into two at the top forming a rachis to which the leaflets are attached symmetrically on either side of the centre. If any of you grow A. flavum it has this structure. The second is a trifoliate leaf with, as the name suggests, three leaflets seeming to emerge from the same point at the top of the stem. If you have grown A. jacquemontii, it has this structure. The final type is the radiate leaf in which more than three leaflets emerge from a central point on the top of the stem. A. consanguineum has radiate leaves with up to 22 elegant long leaflets looking like the spokes of a parasol. All arisaema are interesting and most grow easily from seed. It is the really big species that are most impressive; however it takes time for the tubers to build up to their full potential and it can take several years for them to reach their best. I have a consanguineum that reached over five feet this year but unfortunately some animal (a badger probably) has knocked it over since the photo was taken! Another worth growing is A. speciosum var magnificum. In addition to its impressive leaves it has wonderfully marbled markings on the pseudostem. The picture attempts to show this. The leaves clustered around the base are of Podophyllum Spotty Dotty. One good thing about arisaemas is that they start to grow late in the season, grow fast and soon put their leaves well above any under-planting. Last year I bought A. tortuosum Black Rod. It is already looking good with its dark black pseudostem. It will look even better when it grows up.
Last autumn Wendy sowed some of each of the fern spores sent to the seed exchange by Brian and Sue Dockerill. She used the method published by Sue in The Hardy Plant. In summary, they were sown in microwave sterilised pots of damp compost in sealed plastic bags and then left. It has been very successful. All have produced prothalli, and so far eight of the ten have little ferns now growing. It will soon be time to prick them out. It has been a very interesting exercise and we can recommend it to anyone who wants to grow something different.
This month I will describe an area of our garden that gave us a lot of worry until we hit on the right plan. It is at a point at which a small hill is formed between the gulley at the base of our line of mature oaks (I think it may have been an old green lane ) and the slope down to the winter burn. The last of the old oaks stands at the top of this small rise. A few years ago the weight of a large lateral branch of this oak started to open a split in the main trunk and so we had the limb cut off. You can see the scar in the picture. It is now in three very large pieces at the top of the hill. The soil on the slope is very thin, with underlying solid clay. Thus we have a sloping, infertile slope, half in the shade of a large oak and the other half in sun. Any soil improvement would require some sort of terracing to prevent the compost washing down the hill. It all seemed a bit too difficult until a talk at our local group inspired us to try a gravel garden. To cut a long story short we decided to build a stepped path down the hill between the shady and sunny sides. In the shady side we placed the smaller branches trimmed from the oak limbs along contours, and held them in place with strong wooden pegs. They were back filled with compost and the whole area covered in wood chippings. This area we planted with seed grown shrubs (mainly rosa and berberis species from Chris Chadwell collections). The sunny side became the gravel garden. Firstly, Wendy built a platform at the top on which we could sit. Then 6 ins boards were fixed to pegs hammered in along the contours. The existing weeds were killed off with glyphosate and the whole surface covered with a 6 ins depth of gravel. The boards stop the gravel running down the hill. We plant directly into this. It has been a great success and allows us to grow some of the plants that must have free drainage.
Finally a plea to you to get out and start collecting seed for the distribution scheme. Things are ripening much earlier this year!!
Text and photographs by Joe Sime of the HPS Shropshire Group.