The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Jeanette Lerwill reports on our meeting in November 2019 when Val Bourne talked about The Winter Garden.

 

It’s always good to have a talk from a fellow HPS member, and a very longstanding one at that. Val joined the HPS in 1970, initially to take advantage of free seeds for a garden she was creating; her Yorkshire roots made her thrifty so free seeds were very welcome. She has made many friends through the organisation and, despite being hard of hearing since birth, she became a teacher, garden writer and all round garden guru.

A move in 2004 from Hook Norton to Spring Cottage, Cold Aston, in the Cotswolds, with its one-third of an acre of garden meant a change of soil and weather conditions. A harsh climate makes it cold, windy and wet – already this winter they have had 2 inches of snow and it’s only November.

Val described her style as ‘shoehorn gardening’, tending to be totally overplanted and containing too many flowers! This is something I think most of us can identify with when you love plants. The garden is also organic and she describes it as a ‘living jigsaw’ (also the title of her latest book).

Val mentioned the importance of seasonal light in the Northern Hemisphere, which backlights grasses and tall perennials. The perception of colour also changes in softer light, and low sun picks up detail, making her in love with her garden and particularly keen to maximise these natural enhancements. Unlike many gardeners, who try to provide year round interest all around the garden, Val has borders that peak in each of the four seasons.

In the garden generally Val uses few trees, there is a woodland area at the bottom of the garden which she feels, if she were planning the garden now, she would move to the top due to the poor drainage at the bottom of the slope. Trees are needed to add scale, shelter and shade. She particularly likes Betula ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’ with its pinkish bark, which is underplanted with ophiopogon, cyclamen and eranthis. To add structure to the winter garden there are colourful stems of Rubus thibetanus, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ (which are both pollarded), Cornus alba and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. This last cornus is not cut to ground like C. alba but is trimmed by around a third each year. Evergreen shrubs such as box are also used, and are topiarised into balls and chickens. These were all grown from cuttings, and a tip Val passed on was to use four or five cuttings to make a box ball as they fill out much more quickly, although she suggested using only one for a pyramid. Val also believes that box pyramids are less susceptible to blight than box balls, possibly due to wind movement, blowing away the spores. Although there are evergreen shrubs for structure, with sarcococca and skimmia in containers, Val admits to not having progressed to conifers yet! Evergreen ferns such as Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) ‘Herrenhausen’ and polypodium are used to introduce texture in part shaded areas. For early scent she recommends Lonicera x purpusii.

As the site slopes away the spring garden is sited at bottom of the garden. Hellebores, purchased from her good friend John Massey, include some of Rodney Davey’s ‘ladies’, namely Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’, H. ’Molly’s White’ and H. ’Penny’s Pink’. Snowdrops are a great love, but not the expensive rare ones; she is particularly keen on the Greatorex doubles with mostly Shakespearean names, and the pixie hat-shaped Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ which she finds easy. Other favourites are G. ‘Viridapice’, G. ‘Augustus’ and G. ‘Blewbury Tart’. The spring garden is also home to winter aconites, Cyclamen coum and Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’, which can flower as early as mid-November. Iris unguicularis are not far behind, and a particular recommendation is I. u. ‘Walter Butt’, which has large flowers and, if picked in bud, will open in the warmth when brought inside. Another particular favourite of the spring garden is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’, which was introduced by Bob Brown and named after his wife. 

Iris unguicularis

Galanthus plicatus Augustus’

In the south-facing summer border Val grows oriental poppies, with Papaver orientale ‘Karine’ being a particular favourite, although most of her stock was lost due to mildew. She then went on to describe her autumn planting, which is around the edge of the garden and includes grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, along with Kniphofia rooperi and perovskia, which surprised her by its ability to cope with the harsh conditions. However, grasses such as pennisetum and also penstemons do not seem able to cope, due to the high rainfall.

To help plants which require somewhat drier conditions, Val places rocks around plantings of salvias and Stipa tenuissima. The rocks reflect heat up on to the plants.

Little mention of colour was made during her talk, although Val believes red to be of particular value in the winter garden and seems to ‘pull’ all other colours together. Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ and the hips of roses being favourites.

It was very interesting to hear first-hand the experiences of such a knowledgeable hardy planter, gardening in what sound like quite inhospitable circumstances.

Jeanette Lerwill

Late Summer Colour

Late Summer Colour

A report by Robert Lines on our meeting in October 2019 when Derry Watkins spoke on ‘Late Summer Colour’ 

A fine and dry afternoon displaying some good autumn colour provided an appropriate backdrop to Derry’s talk. She started by saying that although the arrival of spring rightly galvanises all keen gardeners into action, the potential downside is that gardens that bloom in April, May or June can become rather drab by the summer. As summer is a great time to be in and to enjoy the garden, her message was to make sure it was colourful! To this end, Derry professed a liking for plants that bloom from June onwards and into autumn. As illustration, she devoted her talk to the attributes of about 60 plants taken from her garden.

I have to say that I was impressed by her wide selection and sharp slides but unfortunately space limits a description of them all, so I have picked a number of plants that particularly appealed to me.

Heptacodium miconioides, a favourite tree of Derry’s. Elegant drooping leaves and fragrant white flowers certainly catch the attention, but after petal fall at first frosts the calyxes remain and turn gradually to burgundy. Furthermore, in winter some of the young branches turn red and, as a bonus, scarlet berries are occasionally produced. See image above.
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ (to 5ft). Described as a handsome self-supporting plant that has elegant white spires of flowers in midsummer, then dark seed heads that last through the winter.
Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy (to 5ft) with large white flowers in July and August. It likes poor soil but is prone to flop! Can be invasive once established and resents root disturbance.
Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’. Derry commented that this was her favourite phlox – fragrant blue lilac flowers that really stand out in the evening light, flowering from July to September.
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide’. Clouds of purple flowers on burgundy stems from a lacy mass of green foliage. July, 4-5ft.
Selinum wallichianum. Blooms in late summer with large white umbels and purple flushed leaves, to 4ft.
Hesperantha (formerly Schizostylis) coccinea ‘Major’ (crimson flag lily). A great plant for the autumn producing large red flowers on stiff stems. Likes sunny positions in moist soil.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. Rich blue flowers in branched panicles from early to mid-autumn, 4ft. Derry pointed out that, like the phlox, the flowers really glow in the low autumn light.
Crocosmia paniculata ‘Cally Sword’. Grown for its form and foliage with huge pleated leaves and heads of orange flowers, 5ft. Good for a mid-border location.
Amsonia illustris. The light blue flowers in open panicles are produced in late spring and early summer, but its real beauty is revealed in the autumn, when the leaves turn to gold.
Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Red Cauli’. Magnificent raspberry-red flowers on arching purple-red stems in late summer, attractive purple-grey foliage. Height 1ft, spread 2ft. What’s not to like!

Although Derry focused on late summer colour, she did mention some plants that provide interest during the winter months:

Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’. Derry’s favourite winter foliage plant – green summer leaves turn chocolatey then red in spring, while striking dusty-violet flowers appear from February to May. Good in any aspect.
Arum italicum subsp. italicum ’Marmoratum’. Dormant in the summer, but from September produces up to 18inch-long spear-shaped, mid-green, cream-veined leaves that last all winter. White spathes emerge in the spring, followed by red berries if planted in a sunny position.

This was an engaging talk, much appreciated by the audience, and supported with a great range of plants for sale from Derry’s nursery.

David Way honoured with a snowdrop

David Way honoured with a snowdrop

David Way, one of our founding and most distinguished members, died last October. We published an obituary in the Winter 2019 Newsletter, which is reproduced on this website here.

He was a very keen galanthophile so it was a pleasure to see the news in the latest edition of The Hardy Plant Society Galanthus Group Newsletter that he has a new snowdrop named for him. Lyn Miles, Editor of the Galanthus Group Newsletter, and Margaret and David MacLennan, holders of the National Collection, are pleased to have their article reproduced here.

GALANTHUS ELWESII ‘DAVID WAY’

A new naming from the National Collection (Scientific) of Margaret and David MacLennan.

Members of the HPS Snowdrop Group will  be familiar with the erudite contributions of the late David Way to this Newsletter and other publications on many aspects of snowdrop cultivation. David and Anke were early contacts as we sought to build up our National Collection and provided much encouragement and useful advice.  They also generously let us have a number of David’s finds including his now well known ‘Hunton’ series – the elwesii, ‘Hunton Giant’, and two nivalis, ‘Early Bird’ and ‘Early Riser’.

In 2011 David also gave us an unnamed G. elwesii which he described in a letter  as “a large flowered green tipped selection with highly glaucous leaves and a very distinctive appearance.”  In cultivation with us it proved to be a good grower with darkish green/glaucous leaves with an almost prostrate to slightly arching habit and an erect inflorescence of some presence, about 15 cms high.  The substantial single marked flower with 6 – 8 light green lines on the outers was favourably commented on by visitors and we felt that it was distinct enough from other green tipped elwesiis to merit naming.  Anke kindly consented to its being named for David and it has now been registered with the KAVB as Galanthus elwesii ‘David Way’.

It would be difficult to think of a better way to honour David’s memory. Galanthus elwesii ‘David Way’ certainly looks to be a wonderful plant and one that many of us will want to add to our collections one day.

Lyn Miles added, “The snowdrop looks super – David would have approved!”

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