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March 2012

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Magnolia walk, spring bulbs, fallen ash tree and enchanting lilies

Last September and October, when I was doubled over planting bulbs, I was envisaging the display in five or six months' time. I was inspired by the Lime Walk at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent which is utterly spectacular in spring. The ground beneath two parallel rows of pleached limes is a closely-planted, colourful carpet of spring-flowering bulbs. Pleached limes would be away beyond my ability to maintain but I placed three different magnolias in a border 30 metres long and, when nobody was listening, called it the ‘Magnolia Walk'. Pretentious or what? 

Along it I had planted little drifts of chionodoxas, puschkinias, crocuses, corydalis, Kaufmanniana and Greigii tulips, erythroniums and cyclamen-flowered daffodils. Two years ago I had planted ‘Rijnveld's Early Sensation' daffodils in this border and, in the mild autumn, they had been blooming since the end of November. On Monday, January 2, this year I was looking at this border with interest because it was so full of life. Many bulbs were pushing little shoots through the soil and a few ‘Whitewell Purple' crocuses were starting to bloom. The magnolias were bedecked with their furry flower buds and the three specimens of Rhododendron yakushimanum, the only other denizens of the border, had buds that were fat and promising. I was pleased and proud because this was where a Leyland cypress hedge had been. All that's left of this unlovely feature is a row of very low stumps like rotting teeth.

At the very end of the border, between it and the field, there was a 15-metre high ash tree. At 6 o'clock in the morning of January 3 there was a storm which brought the tree down with such force that some of the top branches were deeply embedded in the ground. Two of the magnolias have been left with only the main central stem and their lovely flowerbuds are ruined. In the adjoining beds five rhododendrons have been squashed and Zenobia pulverulenta, Acer palmatum ‘Ozakazuki', a golden privet, Ilex ‘Silver Queen', Pieris forrestii and Viburnum carlesii have all been completely destroyed.

It was quite tragic at the time and was difficult to clear because there was just such a lot of tree. Andy, who does the heavy work in the garden, spent days cutting it up with his chainsaw and wheeling chunks of tree into storage for firewood. But there is now a clear space which faces south and is not shaded. All the other plants growing around will have a better chance now that the hungry big ash is no longer there to deplete the surrounding soil of nutrients, moisture and sunlight.

In replanting the space I am going to continue with the bulb theme - summer-flowering ones. Lilies and lily relations will predominate because they will blend with the rhododendrons in the vicinity and their blooming will take over when the rhododendrons have finished. The species Lilium lancifolium, L. nepalense, L. leichtlinii and L. pardalinum are all happiest in damp acid soil as long as it's well drained. I am also trying out a lily that is new to me called ‘Sweet Surrender', a cream beauty with maroon spots in the throat and orange anthers.

Trilliums are often called wood lilies, Trillium grandiflorum, which is white, and I have acquired the yellow-flowered Trillium luteum and Trillium sulcatum with large velvety red-purple flowers.

Paris polyphylla is a strange trillium relation which I used to grow in the garden before it fell victim to slugs and I am going to try another couple.

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