New Air Raid Shelter Raised Bed

We have recently called on the help of two friendly builders to carry out some garden construction work. I might have undertaken these tasks myself with more time and energy, and without sciatica, which I am currently living with. The most interesting of these works has been the building of a new raised bed, constructed out of broken council type paving slabs to blend with many of our existing structures. This narrow bed runs along the East facing wall a World War 2 air raid shelter that is now disguised from German bombers by a greenhouse that sits on top. Previously this had been a steep bank held in place by the roots of a low growing bamboo (Plioblasus species).

In addition, the builders have adapted some yorkstone steps leading up to the door of the greenhouse. I had built these many years ago with an excessive slope on them, which was bordering on the dangerous.

The bed has been planted with a dozen or so evergreen Epimediums.

Epimedium Plant Fair Displays Report.

In an earlier post, I mentioned our plans to display Epimediums at plant fairs put on by the Essex and Norfolk Groups of Plant Heritage (NCCPG).

The Essex Group’s plant fair at RHS Hyde Hall was held over the weekend of 18th and 19th April. We put on a similar display to last year, in our own little gazebo. For one reason or another, the interest was not as strong as last year.

We think the main reason was, we set up at the back of our allotted space and the two nurseries who were selling plants either side of us, had put plants out well beyond the front of our gazebo. People tended to see the next lot of plants for sale, and make straight for them, with hardly a glance into the comparative gloom inside our gazebo. It was a nice bright sunny weekend and many people had sunglasses or reactolite glasses, which put our display into even more shade. Those visitors who did venture in to examine our Epimediums were generally impressed.

The Norfolk group’s plant fair was only open to the public for three hours between 10.00am and 1.00pm on Sunday 3rd May.

This time we were in the Hethersett Village Hall as the featured plant of the fair. Next to us, at the stage end of the hall, was Keith and Ros Wiley of Wildside Nursery and Garden, Keith being the ‘gardening personality’ of the fair. Keith is a gardening book author and speaker, as well as creating Wildside Garden with Ros, which has been featured on television. They had a selection of plants for sale including a good number of Epimediums. The Norfolk group had a fine banner made up for us, which we were given afterwards, to use at any other indoor displays, we may exhibit in the future. According to our sat-nav, the journey from home to the hall was exactly a hundred miles and we had left home soon after 7.00 am to allow enough time for setting up. We were given a very warm welcome on our arrival with offers of cups of tea or coffee, and assistance was given to bringing our plants from the car into the hall. We were so lucky to be inside as there were twenty or so nurseries in a playing field outside, and the weather was horrible. It was raining and windy and the worst day for several weeks. Judging from the number of visitors coming into the hall carrying carrier bags full of plants, it wasn’t a total, unpleasant, waste of time for at least some of the nurserymen and women. We were busy with lots of interested people from before the10.00 o’clock opening, with members of the Norfolk group and some of the outside nursery people, right through to the end, with numbers just waning in the last half hour or so. Many people missed seeing our ‘DISPLAY ONLY’ sign and picked up our plant in the hope of buying them. This meant our display took a bit of a bashing, but no plants were significantly damaged. Over all we whipped up a good deal of enthusiasm for Epimediums, with our display. I thing Keith and Ross did quite well, as they almost sold all the Epimediums they had brought with them. Several of our plants were more popular than others, perhaps because they were more different from the rest. One, an old variety, E. x versicolor ‘Versicolor’ (syn ‘Discolor’) was an unexpected favourite, but the plant did look lovely with its pink and yellow flowers and pinky red suffused young leaves. E. grandiflorum ‘Lilac Seedling, again was not one we predicted, as one which would receive a lot of favourable comments, but it was a good plant we were showing, which was covered in flowers. The third one was E. ‘Red Maximum’ a very recent hybrid, bred by Belgian nursery man and Epimedium specialist Koen Van Poucke (www.koenvanpoucke.be). It has the darkest red flowers of any evergreen Epimedium we know of.

Visit to RHS Wisley and Esteemed Epimedium Visitors to The Magnolias.

Yesterday, by kind invitation of Colin Crosbie, the Curator of RHS Garden Wisley, Linda and I were taken around Wisley’s various areas, where the garden’s Epimedium collection are growing. As well as Colin, we were guided by Billy, a senior member of the garden staff. En route, we were given pieces of various varieties to add to our collection. One variety we have been aware of for a couple of years is a self sown seedling believed to be a cross between E. platypetalum and brevicornu. It was growing behind a label for an E. platypetalum, which it had appeared to have totally overwhelmed.

The plant grows to around 15 inches high and is covered in tiny yellow and white flowers, giving a charming effect. The picture is of the mangled remains of the plant taken back home, but will hopefully give you an idea of the unusual flowers. At around 5.00am this morning my brain turned on and came up with the name ‘Wisley Imp’. My reasoning was, imps are small as is the plant, and they are also a bit naughty. This one surely is naughty for eating its mother! Colin and Billy thought the name to be apt.

This morning Colin and Billy paid a return visit by coming to us.

They were both surprised by our ‘tardis’ like garden where the front is less than 40 foot square, but the back apears to go on and on. Much time was spent in discussing Epimediums as particularly Colin is also a keen collector. I was able to make his day by giving him a couple of varieties of considerable interest. The visit lasted for more than two hours, which flew past.

Another Pond Bites the Dust

Pressure for more Epimedium planting space and the fact that this pond also leaked, persuaded us to undertake another project requiring considerable human effort.

The job was very similar to the earlier pond conversion, but mercifully rather smaller than last autumn’s task.

It had been a rather shallower pond and therefore needed a lot less soil etc. to fill the void.

I will leave it to the pictures for you to get an idea of the transformation and the work involved.

 

Coincidentally our neighbours were having their bathroom modernised and allowed us to recycle the obsolete facilities. Their old tiles, wash basin pedestal, and even their toilet and cistern were broken up for drainage and filling the space.

 

This new bed has been planted with three Japanese maples, Epimediums and Roscoeas. This time the Epimediums are all Japanese, being E. grandiflirum, x youngianum and other non specific Japanese Hybrids. With a couple of exceptions they are all completely deciduous.

This is a bit of an experiment trying them out in a fairly sunny site.

After planting apparently empty looking pots they have grown well so far and many have flowered. The Roscoeas have been planted for late summer and autumn flowers. They seem more than able to push through a canopy of Epimedium foliage, to give a display of their orchid-like flowers, in purple, lavender and red shades plus yellow and white.. They come into growth very late so it is a very good idea to indicate where they are planted with short pices of bamboo cane etc,. to stop you trying to plant something else in the space.

Epimedium Displays – Spring 2015

If you have come across our post of 7th May 2014 you will know we put on a small display of Epimediums at The Plant Heritage spring plant fair at RHS Hyde Hall. We are booked to do the same this year on the weekend 18th and 19th April.

Also two weeks later on Sunday 3rd May we will be at Plant Heritage Norfolk Group’s spring plant fair held at Hethersett Village Hall, NR9 3JJ.

For these events I have written a small leaflet on Epimediums. It has been primarily aimed at gardeners who have come across Epimediums, but are not aware how much variety there is within this genus of herbaceous Berberidacaea. You can read or print off the leaflet by following this link: Epimediums at the Magnolias.

Some Exciting Additions to our Epimedium Collection.

I mentioned just before Christmas, that I had found a new supplier of unusual Epimediums. They arrived a few days ago and we are pleased with the quality of the plants. The supplier is a nursery called Tuckermarsh Plants and is owned by Mark Fillan down in Devon.

I have given the new plants their ‘posh’ labels with accession numbers, source code and year of aquisition, as you can see in the picture. I am looking forward to their flowering in the spring.

Patience is Rewarded, Just.

I should have posted this earlier in December. It slipped my mind, and besides, I wasn’t too happy with any of the pictures, due to their being taken in poor light.

Having looked online to see if the white tree Dahlia was Dahlia imperialis alba or ‘Alba’, I saw a picture taken at Abottsbury Subtropical Gardens and thought this is a plant perhaps worth further comment.

I obtained my plant in September 2012 from Paul Guppy the wonderful gardener at Upton Country Park near Poole in Dorset. This Georgian manor garden is a worth a visit if you are holidaying in the area and it’s free to go around. Paul was kind enough to let us make a private visit to his own very interesting garden, Cottesmore Farm.

His garden is in the National Gardens Scheme.

My Dahlia didn’t flower in 2012 or 13 but set up buds this autumn and the only flower to open was towards the end of November. Having seen pictures of what it can look like I’m going to try and start it into growth earlier next year, and see if I can achieve a head of flowers instead of just one!

Quirks of Nature

I reported earlier on the extraordinary re-growth of the Magnolia ‘Royal Crown’. It was broken off by the St. Jude Storm, but I just had to photograph a leaf on one of its strongest shoots.

So far the relative lack of frosts and its sheltered position has allowed the leaves to remain a week or two after the last of the deciduous Magnolias have lost all theirs. I guess the tree is keen on feeding the roots as much sugars for energy for as long as possible. It must have a fairly big root system with a trunk as thick as a telegraph pole.

It doesn’t seem to me that we have had the weather conditions to trigger above ground growth in Epimediums, but I spotted new shoots appearing on an E. x youngianum ‘Shikinomai’.

We don’t normally see growth until February in normal seasons, and even then the young shoots are damaged in hard frosts. I will have to put some fleece over this one if hard frosts are expected.

I have ordered around ten new varieties for the National Collection from a new source in the UK. If they look ok after they have been delivered in the new year, I’ll tell you more.

I’ll sign off by wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to our reader!

A Major Conversion Project.

Yet another Epimedium project to report on, I’m afraid. Wishing to make as good a National Collection as possible and and having acquired a considerable number of new Epimediums, we have been looking for more suitable areas to plant them out, within our limited space.

Once again, the aquatic side of our garden has taken a hit.

There were three concrete raised ponds arranged so that pumped water would over flow from the highest to the lowest.These were built nearly forty years ago and all were leaking, to the point that major repairs would be needed for them to function properly again, as ponds. Also over those years they have become rather shaded by surrounding Magnolias, for aquatic plants to give of their best.

Therefore back in mid September, we started the not inconsiderable task of converting the highest of the three ponds into a raised bed for Epimediums and other shade tolerant plants.

The first job was to pump out the water and to remove the aquatic plants. There were a couple of Peltandra plants which we moved to a new home, but a car full of mostly Iris pseudacorus var.bastardii went to be recycled at our local rubbish tip.

There were three brick built waterlily boxes and a brick retaining wall holding back coarse gravel in an ‘under-gravel’ filter. The soil from the lily boxes was bagged up for later use as was the gravel. The brick boxes and wall were then broken up with a sledge hammer.

I have been hankering for a concrete breaker for years to be told by the better half, I didn’t have enough possible future use to justify buying one. In a fantastic piece of syncronicity or fate, on the day I needed to start breaking up the bottom of the pond, Screwfix sent me an E-mail where their budget concrete breaker was £20.00 off, as a deal of the day. I was permitted to buy this impressive tool, and wasn’t I glad I did? I had forgotten that I had built the pond to hopefully see me out. The bottom was about 6 inches thick of good concrete, reinforced with chicken wire. The chicken wire would have made it nigh on impossible for an old man with a sledgehammer to break it up. As it was, it took quite a few sessions to puncture through the majority of the concrete bottom with the breaker. The broken bricks were spread over the broken concrete, plus other hardcore from around the garden and donated by our friendly builder. Over this went the filter gravel, some odd bags of dirty pea shingle and old aquarium gravel. We also had two sacks of old nylon pot scourers which had formed a ‘state of the art’ koi filter in the 1980s which went in the hole to help fill the void. The lily box muddy earth went over this.

Eighteen months earlier our next door neighbour got us to remove his small front lawn, as it was constantly being dug up by badgers. When we did this we found a lot of cockchaffer grubs which were obviously the cause of the badger activity.

About a cubic yard of the turf and soil which had been in plastic bags for well over a year was used next in the pond. Much to our surprise, there were cockchafer grubs still alive in the long dead turf. With all the above materials in the hole, there was still about 20 inches of soil and growing medium needed, to fill the remainder of the bed. At the end of the day it took 5 ton bags of soil, 20 builders’ bags of sharp sand, 6 x 150 litre bails of peat and 6 x 75 litre bags of multipurpose compost, to complete the job.

Three Japanese Maples have now been planted for structure and about thirty Epimediums plus a few Roscoeas, snowdrops and Cyclamen, to give a longer season of interest. A dozen or so of the Epimediums are new French hybrids from Thierry Dellabroye.We are waiting with a good deal of anticipation to hopefully see many of them flower for the first time for us.

When we are feeling strong again, we may start changing the other two ponds into raised woodland beds. Fortunately from the work and back filling point of view, the two together are probably smaller than the one we have completed.

Up Date to Saint Jude Storm Post.

As I suspected would happen, the Magnolia ‘Royal Crown which snapped off at about six feet, in the Saint Jude Storm, has re-grown with a vengeance. Some of the many shoots are now close to an inch thick and six feet tall. They have had very large leaves and I have been worried that some of the vigorous new growths might have broken out in strong winds, but so far so good. When all the leaves have fallen off, we will be able to see which of the many new shoots are best placed to form a new framework of trunks and branches to form a pleasantly shaped new tree. The remaining excessive growth will be cut off cleanly at the trunk or shortened back to form minor branches.  I am hopeful that the tree may produce flowers in the spring of 2016.