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For our December meeting, at East Bergholt, we were treated to a talk by one of the most knowledgeable and practical gardeners most of us have ever met. A real Norfolk man, Barry is Head Gardener at the King’s House, but also has an amazing 1.5 acre garden of his own, at Santon Downham, which is a village some of us recognise as regularly being spoken of in East Anglian weather broadcasts as having just had the coldest night during hard winters. He quoted periods last winter of three nights running at -18 C, so the plants that survived there were severely tested.
A keen plantsman from childhood, he still has the aluminium framed greenhouse he bought at 12 years old, financed by selling his home-grown plants to Woolworths, largely from seed bought there! Reading lists of species and numbers would be boring, so I will confine myself to reporting that he has 480 species of sempervivums growing outside, with more under glass, 400 varieties of primula and 200 of epimediums, but this should be enough to demonstrate his passion for a range of plants. He has also a vast collection of cacti in greenhouses, as well as 1,500 tropical plants which all spend part of the summer outside.
As a very practical gardener, Barry’s philosophy is that nothing should be brought into the garden and nothing taken out, unless totally necessary. He makes his own compost, on a three year cycle, and also employs the old top-growth of herbaceous plants to wrap up and protect the crowns of plants through the winter. The garden is protected by hedges, which were originally grown from seeds and cuttings, and some of the hedges are used as supports for some climbing plants. Clothes posts, pergolas and the garage are also festooned with flourishing climbers, including Dicentra scandens, Solanum jasminoides and trumpet vines.
He described how he creates supports for numerous clematis within herbaceous borders, using stout posts mounted vertically on angle iron, which in turn is sunk into the ground. This allows more plants to be grown and also creates impressive height in the borders. Trees and shrubs are routinely used to support more clematis, as well as Cobaea scandens, Chilean glory vine (Eccremocarpus scaber) and several of the tropaeolum family. He also allows all the large rambler roses, including ‘Kiftsgate’, to romp up trees, and recommends the use of them through hollies, particularly male varieties, to give an appearance of abundant berries which are really small rose hips.
This creative and resourceful gardener has enthusiasm for a huge range of species, including magnolia, and the vitis family, but combined with a no-nonsense approach. He made it clear that nearly everything can be grown from seed or cuttings, and that any sensible gardener will experiment with the survival capabilities of one or two of his young plants, while taking one or two more under shelter for the winter. Altogether an inspiring and thought-provoking talk, which held us all absorbed and, in my own case at least, rather humbled, by the dedication of this life-long enthusiast.
First published in the Essex Group Newsletter May 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 32.
© Copyright for this article: Anne Still
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.
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