On a Chalk Hillside April 2021

Published: April 8, 2021

Posted on 08.04.2021 |
Added in Sheila May's Blog

Gravel Garden Planting – The subshrubs and bulbs border 1

That is a very grand title for an L-shaped border that is to the left of the steps down through the gravel garden.  It was meant to signify that more glaucous/silver leafed plants such as lavenders, salvia, pinks, Artemisia were to be planted in there, together with euphorbias, “that” lavatera, and some hyacinth and allium bulbs.  However it had two roses, various primula, several hardy geraniums, Artemisia ptarmica, as well as some actual shrubs/trees planted in it to begin with.   Here is a general shot of the bed in gravel garden as it was created in November 2011, with strategically placed arrows to show you where the border lays:-

ss shape with arrows 84

In fact though I call it L shaped, the section running along the fence is as long as the section running to the steps, with the already planted, and still in flower in November, in the axis between the two.   To begin with I shall concentrate on the section running along the fenceline between the black trellis that the Golden Hop runs up on the left, and the Shrub border, which you can just see beginning on the right of the photo.

Because the Golden Hop (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus') is so rampant, I planted shade-loving winter plants directly beside it – a dusky pink Helleborus orientalis seedling and a Harts Tongue Fern ().   Here is the hellebore flowering in Jan last year, surrounded by ivy:-

hellebores in ivy 88

You may notice from the first photo above that there is a large Honeysuckle – ‘Graham Thomas' – on the fence.   This was a we bought from our London garden when we moved in 2004, and I planted it against the fence post here in the November when we moved in.   It is one of the few plants we brought with us that has never moved from where we originally planted it in this garden.  Here it is evergreen, and it is in flower for a very long time.  Beloved by bees, and birds for nesting in, it has grown and grown, both up, AND out, and its girth caused the in the shrub border (on the right of the picture below) to grow massively deformed and denuded on one side as you can see from the photo below from mid April 2019:-

lavgoldenglobe orientation 35

The reason you can see this bare side of the Olearia macrodonta is that in January 2018 following Storm Ernest when the fence blew down further up the garden we were forced to undertake major refencing/pruning/reinforcing of climbing frames, so when we got down the garden to this point we gave the honeysuckle a severe pruning:-

severe pruning back of ss 16

You may notice a yellowy green ball near the trellis?  It's a Dwarf golden conifer ‘Golden Globe' (See a closer view below taken in May 18 showing the yellowy foliage picking up on the colour of the Golden Hop – Humulus lupulus Aureus – behind):-

dwarf golden conifer 91

Before I got to the honeysuckle to prune it I was working down the slope – trying to pull ivy that had rooted round the black trellis out of the ground.  I was positioned carefully with my feet between all the plants there, braced to pull the ivy back – it was stubborn, I was really pulling – and suddenly it gave way and I tumbled backwards down the slope – all I was thinking as I went down was “mind the conifer” don't move your feet, keep your legs apart, don't clutch at it as you go down – and it brushed through my legs as I went backwards and landed in a heap under the thicket of the honeysuckle.  Miraculously, the tree was unscathed.  I was showered with detritus from the honeysuckle, which naturally went down my neck as well as in my eyes, but the amount of honeysuckle litter on the ground slightly cushioned my bum.  I was so helpless with laughter it took a long time to get back up, whilst obviously yelling at himself NOT to come and help as he would put his big feet right on the plants I'd been so careful to avoid!   (I was quite stiff and sore by the evening mind!)
This Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe' was another of the plants we had brought with us from London, where it had lived in a very handsome pot in our front garden.  That makes it more than 20 years old.  Behind the Thuja I planted a that was a cutting I had managed to strike from the plant we found here when we moved in, which was much closer to the house.  I have generally had very poor success with rooting cuttings of philadelphus, so was delighted when this one had taken.   Here in flower in June 17:-

philadelphus coronias 58

The idea was that when sitting on the courtyard you had the white fragrant flowers of the lilac Madame Lemoine in April, followed by those of the , both in the shrub border, and then in late May you would have those of the Philadelphus boosting the scent of the honeysuckle – Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas' – which as you know is a pale creamy yellow flower, as you can see here from the end of June 2017:-

lonicera graham thomas 88

As you might be able to see in the close up of the Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe' above, round the skirts of these trees/shrubs I planted (which would be removed once the shrubs grew).   Here it is in flower at the end of June last year:-

pale endressii 99

Towards the front of the Thuja I planted a Dwarf Periwinkle – Vinca minor ‘Atropupurea' to spread around the skirts of the shrubs.   This flowers desultorily most of the year – here a flower from 20 March 2020:-

lesser periwinkle flower 91

At the end of the decking as you turned to go down the next step you had an ‘Powis Castle' to remind you of the silver leafed subshrubs elsewhere.  Here from Jan 18:-

artemisia powis castle 11

The alpine Arabis caucasia ‘Snowcap', almost always in white flower, abuts the step, here in February 2019 with papaver leaves behind:-

arabis in flower in feb 59

And then two highlight plants to really make you notice them right by the steps – the dwarf Korean lilac Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin'; and a knockout oriental poppy right by the border of this bed and the shrub bed.   
It may not be a sock it to you plant but I love my Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin'.  It has such a small and graceful form.  It used to live in a pot by my front door in London so that I could admire its shape all year, and for two weeks in May be absolutely charmed by it beautiful little blush pink with deeper lilac accents flowers with THE most beautiful scent.  It stayed in a pot here until 2011, so was already more than 10 years old, and at its full height of just over 1m, when it went into the ground, and now, in this more rural garden the only difference is that it has lichen growing on its tiny branches.  Here it is in full flower on 22 May 2018:-

dwarf lilac full flower 74

In complete contrast the Papaver orientale – again a plant I brought from London with me – IS an in your face plant when in flower at the beginning of June.  As you can see below from 2013 it hugs the decking steps. 

ss red poppy yr2 53

The “problem” with this plant is that the seedheads – very decorative – sprawl over the steps and annoy himself.  Also, the foliage gets very tatty, and yellows terribly.  If I cut it back not only do I lose the seedheads (and the seeds!) I feel I am diminishing the vigour of the plant.  But these “problems” are worth it for a sight like this:-

ss red20 poppy inside 56

Here are the two star plants in association on 22 May 2018, with the Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe' behind:-

poppy and lilac 31

Behind the poppy I planted a darker flowered form of Geranium endressii, and behind the Lilac, I planted a bottle brush tree.  Well, I say tree.  It was a cutting I bought at a yellow book garden which was about a 30cm tall twig.  In 8 years it has managed to a) survive (BIG tick given its dark and crowded planting pocket under the rampant honeysuckle); and b) grow to 45 cm with two “branches”, but it doesn't flower.  Hopefully now that the Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas' has its own climbing frame, it might be happier….
Next month I shall talk about the planting in the other part of the ‘L' shaped bed.

Sheila May

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