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December 2008

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Water-logging, late jasmine and wonderful cyclamen

Not so long ago, I made lists of plants which were able to cope with summer droughts which were a consistent feature of summers from 1995 to 2006 in north County Dublin. How things have changed in the last two years from this situation to almost continuous unsettled conditions all summer. This has resulted in water-logging in many cases, especially in heavy soils, with rotting and death of many kinds of plants including corns and bulbs. Without doubt we are having longer periods of extreme growing conditions throughout the year and gardening solutions and plant selection to cope with these conditions must be adequate.

Raised beds are one of the best solutions to consider especially where soil is heavy. Plants requiring drier conditions can be planted on the top of these beds. Beds can be raised as little as fifteen centimetres from ground level but higher raised beds are much better and allow a wider range of plants to be grown. My rock gardens are raised from 50 cm to 1.6 metres above ground level with free-draining sandy soil and I have had no losses from ‘wet feet' especially over the winter period where wet soil conditions and frost can be lethal for many plants. At the base of the rock garden where it is always moist, plants that thrive in these conditions include hemerocallis, dwarf astilbe, agapanthus and Molinia ‘Windspiel'. Colchicums, lilies and orchids like it moist also, but well drained, as do roscoea, meconopsis, hosta and dicksonias, all of which revelled during the wet summer.

I have just removed plastic membrane and chips from a few areas in my garden. Underneath was a hard, wet, sterile surface and all the roses planted through this membrane several years ago were suckering profusely just beneath the membrane and popping up everywhere. When digging out some bushes here, it was clear that the rest of the soil profile was badly waterlogged and I would not use this system again on my heavy soil type, particularly where roses are concerned.

Late flowers on jasmine were more strongly perfumed than in early summer. The sweetly scented rose ‘Blush Noisette' never really stopped flowering and without any major blackspot disease. The other perpetual-flowering rose ‘Phyllis Bide' repeat-flowered as did the Chinese rose White Pet. Autumn was particularly colourful in the garden when the woodland fringe and semi-shaded beds give a final burst of ground colour, starting with cyclamen.

Cyclamen hederifolium provided a marvellous display since early to mid-August and the display has been unaffected by the two previous wet summers - so much for needing a summer baking as many books say! Lovely complementary blue colour for this scheme was provided by the superb autumn gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea, and autumn crocuses, both thriving in moist conditions and light dappled shade. I have five cultivars of this gentian, all equally good and trouble-free. For sunnier moist conditions, the colchicums are outstanding, particularly Colchicum agrippinum and Colchicum autumnale ‘Album', easy and trouble-free plants. The latter has a particularly long flowering season from September well into October.

This year I replanted all my Cyclamen europaeum to a new raised dappled shade area adjoining a frequently used path. These have been in flower since early July and their highly perfumed flowers are as good as any jasmine. These along with the other mentioned cyclamen keep the display well into October when Cyclamen cilicium extends the season to November. All the Japanese anemone cultivars are very reliable and grow well even in north-facing open situations and are able to cope with extremes of dry or wet conditions, but these should be planted in restricted situations preferably in a bed to themselves as they are quite invasive.

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