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April 2012

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Cornus, Atlantic cedar, ferns and gentians

Most people lose an important shrub or tree in the lifetime of the garden, be it from disease orn other causes, but when that plant is used as a focal point or structure, then the loss is all the worse. I had such a case last autumn when a 12-year Cornus controversa ‘Variegata' began to drop its leaves and branches started to die off mainly on one side, which ruined the symmetrical effect. This was due to a soil pathogen, a root rot disease. I removed it without delay. It is strange how many well-established cornus plants and acers are dying in gardens throughout Ireland. 


I used this loss as an opportunity and I knew what the replacement would be, namely Cedrus atlanta ‘Glauca Pendula'. This beautiful evergreen weeping tree is even better suited to this position linking well with drooping Nootka cypress, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, and weeping copper beeches. Placed at the end of a vista, it holds this first area together yet affords views to the second lower woodland area. It is under-planted with spring flowering Cyclamen coum and blue fescue which echoes the blue colour of the Cedar. Fortunately this fine tree is drought resistant as well.

Last autumn was ideal for replanting and I replanted several native hart's tongue ferns and male ferns in the drier shady areas amid planting of Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium. These ferns are both excellent plants and thrive in shade. They are as good as any, if not the best plants, for creating interest and structure especially during the summer months when many of the cyclamen beds are dormant. Maintenance is minimal, just remove old leaves in early spring before the new growth begins.

 I used additional plants in these shady borders, such as the blackgrass, Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens' and liriope as well as the Japanese painted fern to create interesting informal patterns through the cyclamen beds. These patterns are not only visually effective in themselves but are an integral part of the overall design as well and are virtually maintenance-free. I have noticed that all cyclamen species thrive better with these planting companions and these beds now have interest all year round.

Winter daphnes came into bloom for November and December and also Choisya ternata. Many of the woodland spring cyclamen species have pushed their leaves above ground and many are in full leaf. Thankfully no severe winter frosts have occurred to cause injury. Several hellebores, snowdrops and aconites were coming into flower in the first week of January. Anemone appenina and Trillium chloropetulum are likewise responding to the mild conditions and emerging above ground in several areas.

Because the soil temperature in January was above 6° Celsius, I divided and replanted willow gentian throughout the lower woodland areas that receive higher rainfall and sunlight. These are superb plants with their arching stems clothed in blue trumpet flowers in the autumn and are trouble-free. They provide a good colour contrast to the pink and white autumn-flowering Cyclamen hederifolium. I have also replanted and divided cynara and hostas, blue-green kinds that are very effective in providing structural grey/blue colour to this area over a long period.


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